Conducting effective literature searches

Searching the literature can take various forms, ranging from a quick scan of recent publications to a formal, systematic interrogation of all available data sources to establish the scientific consensus on a specific topic. In these days of online journal databases, the relative ease of conducting a search means that they often start informally with no thought-out search strategy or defined goal.

A long list of articles can be generated almost instantaneously, but what did you miss and how long will it take to review the data? How easily can the search strategy be repeated and adapted to obtain a more complete and refined set of references? Your search’s quality and value is wholly dependent on the thought and effort you put into developing your strategy. It also determines the effort and subjectivity needed to sort through the list of references it produces. As searches are often an iterative process, pre-defining your goals and strategy allows you to record your starting point and review the decision tree you finally use to select what you consider to be the most appropriate references. 

We all know that when done correctly, literature searching is invaluable for providing insights into research and developing evidence-based guidelines and recommendations. But do we always apply the descipline necessary to achieve our goals efficiently. We (Niche) have written and published a free guide (here) for the novice and for those who need reminding that their time is valuable and should be employed wisely.

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