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Searching for evidence: Literature reviews

LKC Searching for evidence guide includes literature searching & reviews, evidence based practice resources and research support

Planning your literature search and review

Allow enough time for:

  1. planning, testing and conducting the search; and refining your results
  2. reading and assessing (appraising) your findings
  3. writing up the review

Book a time in with LKC if you need assistance with the search strategy.

  • Clarify your question using PICO, PICo, PICOS or SPICE / SPIDER approach - depending on the question and study type
  • Create a list of subject headings (eg MeSH) and keywords for your search
  • Think about alternative and related keywords and subjects to include in your search

See following resources for how to review literature search results and writing a literature review.

Which database?

Identify the best database(s) to search  - go to CKN Databases A-Z list page. Click on More Details against each database link to view descriptions.

Each database has a specific subject or specialty focus. You may need to search several databases to make sure you've covered all the published and / or grey literature.

Why search PubMed and Medline? Because, while there is a lot of overlap, these databases may contain some unique material or retrieve different results. PubMed has more and broader current content. See the link below for further information.

Using a "universal" search, eg Discover CKN (EDS), One Search, etc, will retrieve lots of results because it is searching all of an organisation's online resources and database at once. This can save time if you have planned your search strategy well and know how to limit your results.

Tips for effective database searching

  • Formulate an answerable question
  • Plan your search and then test the search strategy
  • Think about search terms and subjects, related topics and synonyms
  • Use a step by step approach to track results and enable changes as you go
  • We recommend using both keywords and subject headings (or MeSH)
  • Book into a Searching databases session or an appointment with LKC

Understand the difference between using AND or OR to connect separate keywords / subjects or search statements.

These connecting words are referred to as "Boolean operators".

NOT is also another Boolean operator - it's used to exclude terms (eg Sexually transmitted diseases NOT HIV OR AIDS)

Other operators relate to proximity, eg NEAR or ADJacent (indicates the terms need to be in close proximity to one another).

When using keywords to search, remember that keywords are terms found anywhere in the database record.

Consider your keywords and how you will search them. For example:

  • American vs British spelling
  • Different word endings like singular vs plural
  • Different words for the same concept (eg teens, adolescents, youths)
  • Use truncation (*) or wild cards (?) to retrieve alternatives : eg child* (for child / children / child's etc) OR wom?m (women or woman) OR p#ediatrics (British vs American spelling)
  • For phrase searching use quote marks, eg "chest pain" or "shortness of breath"
    • Use single quote marks for 'phrase searching' in EMBASE
    • Do not use quote marks if searching SAI Global standards database
  • Spell acronyms or abbreviations in full

Subject headings may be added to a database record (called subject indexing).

Subject headings may also be referred to as "subject terms",  "descriptors" or "thesaurus terms" in different databases.

When you select subject headings the system will find any records that have matching headings.

Not all records in the database will have subject headings assigned. We recommend that you also include keywords in your search.

Consider using the "mapping" or "suggest subject" features within databases to find subject headings, eg Medical Subject Headings (MeSH).

Note: subject headings may change between databases to reflect the discipline or specialty.

You can rerun previous searches across EBSCO databases. If you rerun a search and get zero (0) results, check the subject headings for the specific database.

Contact us

LKC Library is operating under COVID-19 restrictions.
We are available 8.30am-4.30pm, Mon-Fri. Closed weekends & public holidays.

CEBM Oxford YouTube channel - Search Strategy

CEBM Oxford. Finding the evidence 2 - Turning search terms into a search strategy

CEBM Oxford. Finding the evidence 3 - Turning your search strategy into results: PubMed demonstration

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