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Literature Searching

A step-by-step guide to the literature searching process

Evaluating your search results

The next stage in the search process is to review your results and see if they are relevant to your topic. You can do this by scanning the title and abstracts within your results to see if the information they contain matches the scope of your research topic.

If you are satisfied with the content, you can move on to save and manage your results. If not, don't worry, literature searches are rarely perfect first time. One common fix for improving the relevancy of your results is to check you have combined your search terms correctly. To remind you:

Use OR to combine alternative terms for the same concept:

belief OR attitude OR opinion

Use AND to combine different concepts:

paracetamol AND fever AND child

If you've combined your search terms correctly and you are still concerned you've found too many, too few or irrelevant results, we've outlined some troubleshooting tips below.

Too many results?

Have you added any limits to your search? The search limits available will differ between databases, but publication date, language and age group are among the most common.

Are your keywords too broad? Can you make them narrower? If you've searched for broad concepts such as "mental health" perhaps you could look for more specific conditions like "bipolar disorder".

It might also be the case that the scope of your search is too broad. Can you identify any additional concepts that could help focus your results?

Too few results?

Have you comprehensively planned your search and considered alternative terms for your keywords? If not, adding more search terms can help capture more results. Don't forget to include truncation to include results with different endings or spellings.

Have you found any relevant articles elsewhere (e.g. from a resources list or Google search)? You might like to scan the title and abstract of these articles to help identify useful key words you could incorporate into your search.

Alternatively, you might be using too many concepts in your search. Try removing some of the less essential terms from your search strategy.

If you are getting zero results on any of your search lines, check your spelling.


Irrelevent results?

If you are not retrieving any articles that you expect, you may need to look again at your keywords. This is something your Liaison Librarian can help with, either in person or via email. See the 'Getting help' tab for more information.

It could also be the case that your research topic is not well covered in academic literature and you may need to reconsider or revise your topic.