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Literature Search

Below are examples of how you can document your search strategies using either Microsoft Word or Microsoft Excel. If you are documenting a search strategy for a systematic review, please see our systematic review guide. The Web of Science is a multidisciplinary research engine that contains over 160 million papers from more than 250 academic disciplines.

Performing an effective literature search to obtain the best available evidence is the basis of any evidence-based discipline, in particular evidence-based medicine. Even when journals are indexed in electronic databases, it can be difficult to identify all relevant studies without an effective search strategy. It is also important to search unpublished literature to reduce publication bias, which occurs from a tendency for authors and journals to preferentially publish statistically significant studies. This article is intended for clinicians and researchers who are approaching the field of evidence synthesis and would like to perform a literature search. It aims to provide advice on how to develop the search protocol and the strategy to identify the most relevant evidence for a given research or clinical question.

Your search strategy should use a combination of keywords and controlled vocabulary terms to represent each concept of your research topic. Combine your search concepts using AND, OR, or NOTto refine or broaden your search. Epistemonikos database, has a matrix of evidence table so you can see what citations are shared in common across existing systematic reviews of the same topic.

It is important to remember what a literature review is not. A bibliography, for example, is merely a list of published works with author, publisher, date, etc. An annotated bibliography includes a summary or evaluation with each work, but it is still not a literature review, though it may be a useful step and a separate product of value for both the author and reader. An initial, focused effort of 3 to 5 hours of proper searching may yield 80% of all relevant citations that can reasonably be located using sound techniques in the proper sources.

A literature search can be a daunting, tiring and time-consuming task. Since this activity forms the foundation for future research, it is essential for it to be absolutely comprehensive and accurate. Errors in a literature search could mean loss of precious time, resources and energy.

The ISSG has developed a quality checklist to assess published filters designed to retrieve records by specific study design. Filters for PubMed and other databases on qualitative research, program evaluation, and other public health research types. You could order the review in chronological order, placing the earliest sources first. This may be helpful if you’re tracking the history of a subject and how it’s changed over time. Jot down the central themes of each work, as well as the evidence the author uses to support those themes. However, doing a random search into a generic engine like Google may yield untrustworthy results.

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