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Advanced Clinical Practice Library Guide

Literature searching

Before you start a literature search it's important to plan what steps you will take. Ask yourself:

Where is the best place to find information for your topic?

  • if you are searching for more general information or looking at the background of a topic, search for books and more using Hunter
  • if you are searching for up-to-date journal articles, use Hunter or a specialist healthcare database. Select the 'databases' tab for more guidance on selecting databases relevant to your subject area

What are the limits of your search?

  • you may want to think about the parameters of your search, such as date, language or geographical scope. Many search tools have features that allow you to refine your search.

Are there any research models you can use?

For more general advice on planning a literature search, select the next tab. You will also find more information in our Literature Searching guide, and Ovid and EBSCO search guides.

You may also want to refer to our Libguide on Systematic Reviews: finding and managing the evidence for more advanced searching strategies.

It is important that you plan your search in a methodical way to find the most relevant sources of information. If you can, turn your search topic into a research question. This will help you to formulate a specific and targetted search. For example, the topic 'thromobolytic therapy and heart attack' is quite vague. Instead, it could be phrased as:

How does thrombolytic therapy in A&E improve outcomes for heart attack patients?

From here, you can identify the key concepts in your search and come up with some alternative terms and keywords to search. Use the example table below as a guide. You might want to create your own table in a word document or on a piece of paper.

Write out your essay topic as a question:

How does thrombolytic therapy in A&E improve outcomes for heart attack patients?

Identify the important concepts in your questions and list any alternative terms underneath:


thrombolytic therapy

Alternative terms:


thrombolytic agents

clot busting drugs



Alternative terms:

accident and emergency

emergency department


heart attack

Alternative terms:

myocardial infarction

Searching alternative terms will help you to find more results. Remember that searching is an iterative process and you may want to add or delete search terms after reviewing your results.

As well as using keywords, you can also search for your concepts as subject headings/terms which the video below explains in more detail.

There are many specialist healthcare databases that you may want to use to implement a literature search. They can all be found on the A-Z Databases page, but key databases include:

Select the link below to read our guide to searching Cinahl and other Ebscohost databases:

Searching Healthcare databases using Ebscohost

You will find more databases by looking up the A-Z databases list on the library website. You can select a specialist area to refine the list to suggested databases for your discipline. Select Nursing and Midwifery or Allied Health depending on your subject area.

Select the link below to read our guide to using the Cochrane Library:

Searching the Cochrane Library

There are many databases and e-resources that you may want to use to help you with your studies. They can all be found on the A-Z Databases page, but key databases include:

Select 'UK access management' for Federation and St George's, University of London as the institution.

You can access the exams (the quiz section) and save your favourites by registering for a personal account

A new search engine for NHS staff in England bringing together a wide range of resources such as databases, journals, e-publications, NICE guidance and other support tools in one place. You can access it here: Login with your OpenAthens account to gain full access.

Further NHS resources can be found in the following Libguides: Allied Health Professionals NHS Library Guide and Nursing Professionals NHS Library Guide.