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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.
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
Here are a few book chapters that can help you when it comes to developing your search strategy:
- Aveyard, H. (2019). Doing a literature review in health and social care a practical guide (4th ed.). Maidenhead: Open University Press. (Read Chapter 4 - How do I search for literature?)
- Siu, C., & Comerasamy, H. (2013). Doing a research project in nursing & midwifery : A basic guide to research using the literature review methodology. London: SAGE. (Read Chapter 4 - Collecting data by searching)
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 Blackboard to find key texts on your topic.
- Journal articles - Your main database to locate journal articles is CINAHL.
- 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. Here are a few:
- Aveyard, H. (2019). Doing a literature review in health and social care a practical guide (4th ed.). Maidenhead: Open University Press. (Read Chapter 5 - How do I critically appraise the literature?)
- Aveyard, H., Sharp, P., & Woolliams, M. (2015). A beginner's guide to critical thinking and writing in health and social care (2nd ed.). Milton Keynes: Open University Press. (Read chapter 2 - How you can think more critically about information that is readily available)
- CRAAP test - A checklist for evaluating webpages
- CASP UK - Useful checklist to work through when you are reading research.