There is no perfect search strategy and every researcher will adapt processes that will work for him/her. Even so, most strategies will encompass the ABCs:
Basically, you need to find relevant terms then combine them in a coherent manner.
You can play with searches to make them as simple or complicated as needed:
Look at the 'Search Tips' tab for advice on " " for phrases, AND for limiting and OR for expanding results.
When you have refined your search, consider the who, what where, how when and why:
So that you are not revisiting old searches, save your searches on Explore or databases or if you like the pen and paper approach, we've created a search chart you can print off and use!
Many search engines and databases offer advanced searching that gives you greater flexibility. What options are available and the special symbols used will vary, so you'll always want to start at the Help, Hints, or Tips screen.
Some of the most common advanced search techniques are:
Narrow or broaden your search using the Boolean operators AND, OR, NOT.
Search for a specific phrase using quotation marks e.g."history of education."
Use an asterisk (*) to truncate words when searching. Child* will retrieve children, childhood, etc.
Use a question mark as a wildcard. Wom?n will retrieve women, woman.
You can limit where your search terms are found (i.e. limit the search to title only) to increase the likelihood of their relevance.
By doing this, you will only be searching those journals that have been reviewed and assessed by academic experts. Again, you can not rely on this refinement to on over authoritative sources so may also want to modify your search terms to limit your results.
When searching, check out the URL (web address) to assess the authority of a source. One part of the URL indicates the type of domain:
The origin of a web page can help you evaluate the legitimacy of a page. Generally, you expect accurate information to be found at domains with .gov or .ac and you can limit your searches to specific domains. For example, the search below will be limited to higher education or university sites in the United Kingdom:
However, be aware that this type of search is not necessarily foolproof. Not everything with .gov or .ac in the URL will pass the CRAAP test.
Literature, Narrative and Systematic Reviews
Reviewing literature can take weeks, months or years depending on the type of review you are carrying out. Most students writing a MA dissertation will be preparing literature or narrative reviews. Systematic reviews are usually much longer and involve more than one person. Below are links to guidance for systematic reviews:
While all reviews should be rigorous and there are a number of interpretations of the differences between systematic and literature reviews, the example below gives a snapshot of the characteristics of each.
|Systematic Review||Literature Review|
|Definition||High-level overview of primary research on a focused question that identifies, selects, synthesizes, and appraises all high quality research evidence relevant to that question.||Qualitatively summarizes evidence on a topic using informal or subjective methods to collect and interpret studies.|
Answer a focused clinical question.
|Provide summary or overview of topic.|
Clearly defined and answerable clinical question.
Recommend using PICO as a guide.
|Can be a general topic or a specific question.|
Pre-specified eligibility criteria.
Systematic search strategy.
Assessment of the validity of findings.
Interpretation and presentation of results.
|Number of Authors||Three or more.||One or more.|
|Timeline||Months to years. Average eighteen months.||Weeks to months.|
Connects practicing clinicians to high quality evidence.
Supports evidence-based practice.
Provides summary of literature on a topic.
Chart adapted in an accessible format from: Kysh, Lynn (2013). Difference between a systematic review and a literature review. [figshare]. It can be downloaded from the Figshare website.