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Planning a search strategy
Information for planning a search strategy and selecting sources
Creating a search strategy
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.
Finding journal articles
Journals are usually published on a regular basis, such as weekly, monthly or quarterly and each issue contains a collection of articles by different authors usually reporting the latest research. You can find all the journals we subscribe to using iFind, the library catalogue.
Journals will be very important to use during your studies, they will provide you with high quality, reliable and up-to-date information. Using articles in assignments will demonstrate you have read widely on your topic. The main way to search for journal articles on your topic is to use a bibliographic database. A database is simply just an organized collection of information or data. Swansea University pay for access to 100s of high quality databases to help you find the best and most up-to-date information for your research. The main databases we recommend are below but remember each database will have different content so it's best to use more than one database to make sure you get all the information you need!
iFind This link opens in a new window
PICO - a tool for identifying your clinical question & search terms
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:
- PICo - Population, Interest, Context (A modified version for qualitative questions)
- SPICE - Setting; Perspective; Intervention/Interest, of Phenomenon; Comparison; Evaluation.
- SPIDER - Sample; Phenomenon of Interest; Design; Evaluation; Research type.
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.
These are the key databases for finding information:
Medline This link opens in a new window
PubMed This link opens in a new window
ChemIDplus This link opens in a new window
Structure and nomenclature authority files used for the identification of chemical substances
PubChem This link opens in a new window
World's largest collection of freely accessible chemical information.
ChemSpider This link opens in a new window
Chemical structure database providing fast access to over 67 million structures, properties, and associated information
Scopus This link opens in a new window
Web of Science This link opens in a new window
ASSIA This link opens in a new window
Applied Social Sciences Index and Abstracts is an indexing and abstracting tool covering health, social services, psychology, sociology, economics, politics, race relations and education. Updated monthly, ASSIA provides a comprehensive source of social science and health information for the practical and academic professional. ASSIA currently contains over 375,000 records from over 500 journals published in 16 different countries, including the UK and US.
BioMed Central This link opens in a new window
An STM (Science, Technology and Medicine) publisher with a large portfolio of peer-reviewed open access journals. Our journals span all areas of biology, medicine and health.
CINAHL This link opens in a new window
The Cumulative Index to Nursing & Allied Health Literature (CINAHL) is a database indexing literature related to all aspects of nursing, midwifery and allied health. CINAHL is international in scope with more than 5.2 million records from 5000 journal titles, including full text for more than 770 journals.
Education Research Complete This link opens in a new window
Education Research Complete covers a range of subjects and all levels of education from early years to higher education. Content includes academic journals, teaching magazines and conference papers.
Epistemonikos This link opens in a new window
Epistemonikos is a collaborative, multilingual database of research evidence and knowledge translation products that are usually referred as "evidence", according to the meaning given in Evidence-Based Health Care.
Epistemonikos was developed and is maintained by systematically searching electronic databases and other sources for relevant systematic reviews and broad syntheses of reviews
Henry Stewart Talks: Biomedical & Life Sciences Collection This link opens in a new window
The Biomedical & Life Sciences Collection from HS Talks provides immediate access to over 1,800 online seminar style talks containing the latest research, developments as well as the fundamentals presented by the world’s leading experts including a number of Nobel Laureates.
Henry Stewart Talks: Medical imaging This link opens in a new window
Part of the Biomedical & Life Sciences Collection from HS Talks, which provides immediate access to over 1,800 online seminar style talks containing the latest research, developments as well as the fundamentals presented by the world’s leading experts including a number of Nobel Laureates.
HMIC This link opens in a new window
The Health Management Information Consortium contains details of articles and books in health management, social care, social policy and community care.
IBSS This link opens in a new window
International Bibliography of Social Sciences (IBSS) includes over 3 million bibliographic references to journal articles and to books, reviews and selected chapters dating back to 1951. It is unique in its broad coverage of international material and incorporates over 100 languages and countries. Over 2,800 journals are regularly indexed and some 7,000 books are included each year.
Maternity and Infant Care This link opens in a new window
Maternity & Infant Care is an important essential resource for academics and healthcare professionals involved in the care of women and infants. This unique database contains over 225,000 bibliographic references with abstracts to articles from over 400 international English language journals, books, guidelines and grey literature relating to the midwifery profession, pregnancy, labour, birth, postnatal care, infant feeding and neonatal care up to the second year of an infant’s life, and the transition to parenthood. Database coverage is from the mid-1980s.
Proquest Central This link opens in a new window
ProQuest Central is the largest single periodical resource available, bringing together complete databases across all major subject areas, including Business, Health and Medical, Language and Literature, Social Sciences, Education, Science and Technology, as well as core titles in the Performing and Visual Arts, History, Religion, Philosophy, and includes thousands of full-text newspapers from around the world.
APA PsycARTICLES This link opens in a new window
PsycARTICLES is a database from the American Psychological Society giving full text access to over 100 journals in behavioural science and related fields.
APA PsycINFO This link opens in a new window
PsycINFO provides coverage of behavioral science and mental health fields, containing nearly 4 million citations from 2500 journal titles. PsycINFO is the largest resource devoted to peer-reviewed literature in behavioral science and mental health, with ninety-nine percent of the covered material peer-reviewed.
PubMed This link opens in a new window
PubMed provides free access to MEDLINE, NLM's database of citations and abstracts in the fields of medicine, nursing, dentistry, veterinary medicine, health care systems, and preclinical sciences. Adds citations daily.
Sage Research Methods This link opens in a new window
Sage Research Methods Online (SRMO) is a research methods tool, linking Sage's research methods content with search tools to help researchers answer their research methods questions. The site contains 504 book titles, including the QASS (aka Little Green Book) series, 6 dictionaries, 4 encyclopaedias and a Major Work containing journal articles.
Successful literature searching
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:
- Defining your Keywords
- Setting limits (ie: date of publication, language)
- Where are you going to search? (databases, websites etc.)
- Recording your results
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:
- Books - We recommend that you start with your module reading list in Canvas to find key texts on your topic.
- Journal articles - Your main database to locate journal articles is Medline.
- Grey Literature - This is basically anything not published in a journal, for example conference proceedings, Government documents, Reports from Organizations.
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. 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:
- academic enough
- Free from bias
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.