Outlined on this page are the 4 main steps to a successful literature search. Additional advice and support is always available from your Librarians, see our contact details on the home page. You may also find the handouts and links below useful.
Spending a small amount of time thinking about your search strategy will really help you when finding information for your assignments. They key points to a good search strategy are:
You'll find a few book chapters that can help you when it comes to developing your search strategy on these pages.
There is a wide range of information you may like to include in your assignments. This includes:
Getting your keywords right is a very important part of the search process, the more literature you read on your topic the more keywords and key terms you will come across. At the beginning of your search you may only have a few keywords, with these you can conduct a scoping search (a brief, broad search) to get an overview of how much literature there is on your topic. Based on your results you can then refine your keywords and rerun your search.
Correct combination of your keywords using boolean operators (AND/OR/NOT) will be important. We have created a research record form to help you to think about keywords for your search.
NB: Some of our databases will also have Subject Headings/Thesaurus headings. For example Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) in MEDLINE. Using subject heading searches is an advanced way of searching for literature and can provide a useful, focused set of results. Each database will have a help page with further details.
Critically appraising your sources is a crucial element of any literature search and a question we get asked a lot. How do you know if your sources are:
There are a number of excellent books, book chapters and websites that can help you when it comes to critically appraising your sources. You'll find a few on these pages.
Start considering your key search terms by identifying the key concepts in your research questions and then consider synonyms, related terms, different spellings, abbreviations, more specific and general terms that an author or authors may have used to discuss the topic.
The PICO tool Patient/Intervention/Comparison/Outcome can help you to frame your research question and identify concepts for your medical/clinical search.
If PICO isn't working for your search then you might like to consider another framework such as:
Or don't use a framework and separate your topic into different search concepts.
e.g. Hospital acquired infection
So your key terms could include; Hospital acquired infection/Cross infection
So your key search terms may include; handwashing/hand washing/hand-washing/hand hygiene
So your key search terms may include; alcohol rub/sanitizers/hand rub/hand gel
So you may include reduction in your search. Although consider carefully as searching for articles that include hospital acquired infection and handwashing and other solutions you may find relevant material without the addition of reduced/reduction to your search.