Structured literature searching – Part 1


This series of presentations is designed to
provide some hints on undertaking your literature searching in a structured way� whether you
are doing a basic literature review, or undertaking a meta-analysis or a systematic review.
Everyone approaches searching differently. There is never a perfect search, but you can
demonstrate and document that you have used a structured and a thorough approach.
These presentations include the following sections.
Discussion about systematic reviews & meta-analyses. Hints and techniques for systematic searching.
The why and how to record your processes, decisions and search strategies.
As well as information about other tools and resources, including PRISMA, that you may
find useful. Systematic reviews are highly structured versions
of literature reviews. They include a range of documented protocols, both in terms of
their search strategy as well as criteria for inclusion or exclusion of studies, coding
& analysis. A critical element of a systematic review
and indeed a meta-analysis is that the study can be replicated.
Not everyone will want or need to undertake a full systematic review, but you may be able
to use elements of such reviews to make your own literature searching more structured.
As an aside it is worth thinking about the possibility of publishing an article based
on your own literature review. Consider whether elements of a systematic
review may add value to your own research. Have a look at some published meta-analyses
or systematic reviews in your own area. See how they are structured, and how they document
their searches within the Methods section. To find these, use the terms �systematic
review� or meta-analysis or �structured literature review � along with topic keywords
in our journal databases. Systematic reviews were originally developed
in the health sector as part of the evidence based practice movement. Key criteria includes
the identification of high quality evidence for example randomized controlled trials.
The key principles of systematic reviews have since been adapted for use within the social
sciences. These 2 databases � the Cochrane Library
and the Campbell Collaboration – contain collections of systematic reviews.
The Cochrane Library is very extensive, and supports evidence-based healthcare decision-making.
The Campbell Collaboration is a much smaller consortium, with fewer systematic reviews.
It is a social science resource � with reviews investigating the effects of social interventions
in Crime & Justice, Education, International Development, and Social Welfare. It has been
announced fairly recently that the Campbell Collaboration will merge with Cochrane in
the future. Formal systematic reviews will always document
the protocols that were applied. Have a look at such protocols, and see how the published
review is presented or formatted. Cough. Excuse me please.
Check the Appendices for their detailed search strategies.
Have a think about ways you might use or adapt any of these protocols, or the ways of documenting
such protocols or processes, in your own research? Both sites also provide information about
how to undertake a systematic review. For example Cochrane provides free access to their
handbook, and the Campbell Collaboration provides some training materials. A number of different frameworks have come
out of the health sciences, such as PICO. They have been designed to assist with structuring
your research question. Now not all research questions in the health
sciences are about interventions. Other types include aetiology, risk factors, frequency,
diagnosis, prognosis orprediction. The PICO model can be adapted to suit your research
question. The SPIDER model is a good alternative for
the social sciences. In addition to helping formulate your research
question, it and the PICO model are useful in terms of structuring your search terms
and concepts, and we will look at this aspect in another section of the presentation.
Think about your own research question in terms of one of these structures. Would one
of them work for you, with your own research? I am sure that you are keeping some sort of
reflective journal already. Use this to document your thoughts and decisions
about your research question, and in particular about the inclusion or exclusion criteria
you may wish to apply, or the protocols you may wish to invoke.
Being able to justify your decisions and processes down the track is immensely helpful.
The format of such a journal is irrelevant � it is whatever works for you. The next section of the presentation looks
at hints and techniques for systematic searching.

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