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Literature review support
Students and staff of the Radboud University can contact the NSM team for help in developing expert search strategies. If you would like to make an appointment for a systematic review, you can fill in the form and email us at email@example.com.
We can partner with you on:
- relevant search terms
- databases and information sources
- structured searches
- selecting, saving and citing literature
- creating alerts on newly published literature
Literature Search Libguide
Literature Support Website
To get start with your review, follow the steps:
Step 1 - Literature review: aim and type
Why do you want to do a review?
- to develop a research question
- to present a brief introduction of your subject
- to present an extensive detailed account of a body of literature
Review types (guide)
This guide from Health Science Libraries of the Temple University will help you to find out the differences between the review types.
Step 2 - Search question
If you search for literature you should think about your topic or research question. You can search for literature with a query based on your topic or research question. Depending your research question and review type you will develop a search strategy.
From topic to search query
Translating your topic to a search query. Break down your topic to manageable search topics. Different methods and frameworks like PICO or CIMO give guidance on how to refine your research question.
From research to search
Video of the University of Leeds about how to turn your research question into a search strategy.
Step 3 - Publication types & databases
Consider what type of literature (journal articles, books, case studies etc.) you are looking for as the type of literature determines the database you should use. You will find databases in this library guide in the menu Find Literature ordered by name and by publication type. Our Databases A-Z lists all available search sources.
Tips to identify whether a source is relevant:
- Who provides the database?
- Which topics are covered by the database?
- Which journals or books are searchable via the database?
Step 4 - Search terms & techniques
When performing an extensive literature search, don’t only look to the key terms of your research question or topic.
Also bear in mind the following terms:
- language variant
To find alternative search terms:
- Use a thesaurus to identify synonyms.
- Search for your topic on a search engine, scanning the results for alternative words and phrases.
General search techniques
Databases and search engines often offer additional ways to search for better results: a good balance between completeness and relevance. General search techniques like Boolean search operators are must knows.
Every database works differently. The NSM team can help you with setting up searches using the specialized syntax of individual databases.
Step 5 - Search strategies
If you have found one journal article, you can consult the article's references to find out what sources were used. This will help you to find earlier literature.
Snowballing Procedure (source: C. Wohlin 2014)
Cited reference search
Cited reference search is snowballing forward. Look at sources where the article is cited. This will give you more up-to-date literature on your topic. The Web of Science or Google Scholar search engine, for example, let you do this easily.
Searching relevant journals
If you find many relevant articles in certain journals, it may be useful to search these journals to find other relevant articles. Find out more about journal search.
If a lot of your key articles are written by the same author, you could carry out an author search. You can search by author in almost all databases or search engines. Make sure you search for all name variants.
You can organize your search terms into thematic groups (blocks), covering the various aspects within your topic. It will help to create an overview of potential search terms.
- Formulate a literature search question
- Identify the key elements
- Define your blocks (key elements)
- Collect search terms for each block
- Set up a search string
The search terms within a block are combined with OR, the blocks are combined with an AND operator.
Use our Block Search Builder to easily build search queries using the block search method.
Step 6 - Recording search process
Record your search activities including search strategy, search terms, search options, search filters and search operators.
Customize this search tracker (Excel sheet). Copy and paste the exact search query in the Excel. Additionally, you record which database or search system you used, together with the filters you applied and the number of results generated by your search.
Checklist for searching
The PRISMA extension for searching was published in 2021. The checklist includes 16 reporting items, each of which is detailed with exemplar reporting and Rationale.
Step 7 - Selection
Including and excluding criteria
Think about e.g.:
- time period
- language range
- study population
- nature of the intervention
- methodological quality
To select references:
- First - screen title and abstract
- Second - full text review
The PRISMA flow diagram might help you with this selection process.
Other software tools for screening references
abstrackr - Abstract screening for systematic reviews.
Covidence - Software for sreening, risk of bias tabes and data extraction.
Rayyan - Rapid sifting of citations and sharing decisions.
SR Toolbox - Web based catalogue for SR tools.
Step 8 - Critical Appraisal
During the critical appraisal process based on quality measures, you will be assessing each study's risk of bias.
- Identify or develop a checklist for evaluating studies
- Test the checklist (ensure that you are evaluating all aspects you would like to / need to address)
Example of a checklist:
Final step - Citing literature
At the NSM you should credit sources in American Psychological Association (APA) style.
Reference management programs help you with managing references and citing literature in your documents. They offer ways to link and search full text and format your citations in many different citation styles.
Literature review self study