RCSI Library has created this LibGuide as an introduction to the different steps involved in undergoing a literature search:
Select relevant resources for your topic from the Library Databases page. It is recommended that you search Medline, Embase, Cochrane, Web of Science, and Scopus if you are writing a journal article, systematic review, national clinical guideline, thesis or dissertation.
The Library Clinical Summaries page includes DynaMed which provides excellent clinical summaries for background information with links to international clinical guidelines.
Clarify your topic: divide your topic into separate aspects, and identify all keywords and synonyms for each aspect of your topic to ensure your approach is structured and comprehensive.
Separate searches: carrying out separate searches for each part of your topic allows you to see what has been published on each aspect and gives you the flexibility to combine the various aspects of your topic in different ways to yield further results, particularly if the combination of all aspects of your topic finds too few results.
Keyword searches: Keyword Searches use your words / freetext to find your terms mentioned anywhere in the article title/abstract/record. Carry out keyword searches for each aspect of your topic separately, using truncation or phrase searches as appropriate, to find articles that mention your topic.
Truncation finds different word endings: eg transplant* will find transplant, transplants, transplanted or transplantation.
Phrase searches uses inverted commas to find your words beside each other in the same sentence: eg "reflective practice"; "chest pain"; "hand washing".
Subject Heading searches: Subject Headings indicate the main topics of a paper using terms from the database thesaurus of Subject Headings (MeSH in Medline/PubMed, Cinahl Headings, Emtree in Embase). Do Subject searches on each aspect of your topic separately to find articles where your topics are main subjects within the paper. PubMed automatically maps your own keywords to MeSH terms. Medline and CINAHL have an option to “Suggest Subject Terms” to match your own keywords to MeSH or Cinahl Headings. Embase has options to “Map to Emtree Terms” in the Advanced Search Mapping tab. The subject heading searches have a code [MH] in Medline or Cinahl, MeSH in PubMed, or /exp in Embase.
It is recommended that you do both Keyword and Subject Heading searches to ensure that you don’t miss any potentially relevant articles.
Combine your searches using OR and AND: Your Search History shows your sets of results for each search. You can combine your searches by selecting them in the Search History list, and choosing Combine with AND or Combine with OR. Combine searches of similar meaning with OR; eg cancer OR oncology OR neoplasms. Combine searches of different meaning with AND; eg cancer AND treatment. You can combine your keyword and Subject Heading searches on each aspect of your topic with OR so you get a subtotal for each aspect of your topic. Then you can combine all your subtotals together with AND to find articles that discuss ALL aspects of your topic.
Sample Search Terms for topic on feelings of guilt after receiving a kidney transplant
|kidney OR renal OR nephrology OR [MH]Kidney OR [MH]Kidney Failure||500|
|S2||transplant OR [MH]Transplantation OR [MH]Transplant Recipient OR [MH]Organ Transplantation||2000|
|S3||guilt OR emotion OR feeling OR coping OR acceptance OR [MH]Guilt OR
[MH]Emotions OR [MH]Quality of Life OR [MH]Adaptation, Psychological
|S4||S1 AND S2 AND S3||44|
Save your searches: Every database has options to register and create a personal folder to sign in or login to. You can save articles or searches to your folder. It is very useful to Save Searches if you need to run a search again to check for newly published items on your topic. Saving your search means that you can easily re-run it any time without typing in the whole search again, and you have an accurate record of your search strategy. You can add relevant articles to your folder for future reading, or to export a set of articles to reference management software such as EndNote. It can be useful to export results from each database into EndNote to de-duplicate results if you have large quantities of results on your topic.
Citation searches: when you have selected articles for your bibliography/reference list, search for each article title in Scopus and click on Cited By to find more recent articles that have cited the paper since it was published. You can also search for known authors in Scopus to check for other articles by these authors that are not listed in Medline or Embase.