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Carrying out a literature search can be daunting- knowing where to start, understanding the foreign language of “search syntax”, how to choose your search terms, and not finding exactly what you’re after, or being sure you’ve found everything despite what feels like an eternity scrolling through pages and pages of results.
There is plenty of support available, including excellent training such as the LIHNN MOOC. Also take a look at NLPN top tips on literature searching for useful resources which will help you to develop your techniques. The important thing to remember is, it is a skill that will get better the more you practice and gain confidence. And, although there are some important techniques, I often think of searching as the “art” of applying the science of information retrieval – people may take slightly different approaches to the same search topic, there is not always a single “right” way, and sharing ideas can help – we find in our team in the NHS, chatting to a colleague about a tricky search helps us refocus and come up with a slightly different range of search terms.
Literature searching requires a methodical approach – but is an iterative process, there’s nothing wrong with refining your search terms as you go along- a degree of flexibility and adaptability is needed.
We won’t attempt to reproduce the excellent training resources such as the LIHNN MOOC here, but here are a few tips to help your literature searching…(in no particular order)
Does CBT improve self-esteem in adults with eating disorders, compared with psychotherapy?
Using the PICO table below, see if you can add any relevant words or phrases, we’ve provided a few to get you started:
Now think about how you will use Boolean logic to structure your search, grouping relevant terms together and combining different sets in order to achieve the maximum number of relevant results from your strategy:
Once you have developed your PICO strategy and identified which terms you would combine using Boolean logic, you can start to sketch out your search strategy.
An example of the search strategy using OVID Medline can be found below; you should be able to identify the three key concept groups and how they have been defined. As we mention searches are subjective so you may have included/excluded different terms to the ones found below:
Database: Ovid MEDLINE(R) <1946 to September Week 2 2016>
1 “Feeding and Eating Disorders”/ (12576)
2 Anorexia Nervosa/ or Anorexia/ (16046)
3 Bulimia Nervosa/ or Bulimia/ (6871)
4 (binge* adj4 eat*).ti,ab. (3831)
5 (eat* adj4 (disorder* or condition* or illness*)).ti,ab. (14668)
6 (anorex* or bulimi* or orthorex* or nervosa*).ti,ab. (29833)
7 (extrem* adj4 diet*).ti,ab. (497)
8 or/1-7 (47490)
9 Cognitive Therapy/ (19588)
10 (cognitiv* adj4 (behavior* or behaviour*) adj4 therap*).ti,ab. (10145)
11 (CBT or CBT-E or CBT-Ef).ti,ab. (5946)
12 or/9-11 (23414)
13 self concept/ (49961)
14 (self* adj4 (care* or caring* or confiden* or esteem* or concept* or regard* or assuranc* or respect*)).ti,ab. (43134)
15 or/13-14 (79992)
16 8 and 12 and 15 (138)
17 animals/ not humans/ (4285612)
18 16 not 17 (138)
Once you have developed a first draft, take a look through the final results and see if you can identify any words or phrases that you might have missed. For instance by adding ‘care* or caring*’ to line 14, 14 relevant results were added to the final number.
Next, try developing a strategy for one of the following search questions: