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Health Postgraduate Advanced Library Modules : Module 1: Systematic searching

Module 01: Systematic searching

This module is divided into 5 sections: 

 

Prepare Run Review Revise Evaluate Access Appraise
How to begin and plan your search strategy.  How to put your search strategy to work.   Not getting the results you need? 
Adjust your strategy. 
 How to access those useful resources.  Critically evaluate the quality of the resources found. 

 

 


 

Prepare

 

Mei has begun a research unit and has a research question she needs to investigate. 

Her topic is: 
Physical activity interventions (including Policies/frameworks) for obese young women. 

Before Mei searches the databases, Mei plans the search. She uses the search planner document to break the topic into concepts and it helps save time in complex searches. 

 

 

Activity

In the 'How to Prepare the Search Strategy' activity below, you will work your way through different learning activities covering the following: 

  • breaking down the question into concepts
  • similar words for the concepts
  • truncation
  • wild cards
  • phase searching

 

 

 

Video: What is Boolean?

Boolean is a way of controlling your search using particular words, or operators. For more, watch the video below which explains what Boolean is (1:36).

 

 

Mei’s search planner

Mei worked her way through the activities and applied the concepts to her search topic. This is how her search topic now looks:


Main search terms as stated in your topic description above

Similar search terms for those concepts:

using truncation* e.g. adolescence* will find adolescent, adolescents, adolescence

wild cards? e.g wom?n will find woman, women

organi?ation will find e.g organization, organisation

To search a phase (2 or more words) use double quote marks e.g climate change

Concept 1 “physical activit*” OR exercis* OR sport*
AND
Concept 2 intervention* OR

progam* OR strateg* OR guideline* OR framework* OR policy OR policies

NB: polic* would find police, policing which we don’t want so type out the words in full

AND
Concept 3 obes* OR overweight OR “high bmi” OR “high body mass index”
AND
Concept 4 “young wom?n” OR “young female*”

 

Quiz

Work your way through the ‘Prepare summary’ quiz below.

 

 


 

Run

 

Image of Mei in a pink skirt, standing in a circle

 

Systematic searching uses one database at a time. Medline Complete is one of the main databases for health topics and is hosted on the EBSCOhost platform. 

Mei will start her systematic search with this.

 

 

 

Course presentation

Work your way through the ‘Running the Search’ course presentation below.

 

 

 

Activity

Your turn! Work your way through the ‘How to run a search’ activity below.

 

 

 


 

Review & Revise the search

 

 

 

 

“My supervisor gave me an article.Why isn’t it appearing in my results?”

 

Mei

Postgraduate Health

 

Below is a screenshot of the article provided to Mei by her supervisor and it is on her topic, but it didn’t appear in her results.

 

screen capture of an article with the words young adult African American women highlighted in the title

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In this article it doesn’t state “young women” or “young female” but it does have the word young near the word women.

To find this article Mei needs to do a proximity search, allowing her to search for an individual term or group of search terms that are near each other.

For example she could replace the “young wom?n” concept with the following line: (adolescen* or teen* or young) N2 (wom?n or female*) N is for NEAR and 2 is for the number of words that could separate these.

Generally, 2 or 3 is the recommended number but you can always have a try with different numbers and check out the results.

 

Video: Proximity searching

Click the play button to see how to do a proximity search through Medline Complete (2:36).

 

 

 

 

Medline Complete 

 

screen shot of search strategy with    (adolescen* or teen* or young) N2 (wom?n or female*) in the top search box. And the search history showing the other words added as line by line concepts

 

Tip

If the article still did not appear within the results, Mei might check Ulrichs Periodicals Directory to see which database the journal is indexed within - it may not be in Medline Complete

Image: light bulb in silhouette of a head

 

Activity

Work your way through the ‘How to do a proximity search’ activity below.

 

 

Are the results relevant?

Find a balance between specificity and sensitivity. 

Specificity - when you are willing to miss out on some articles to get the most relevant results. 

Sensitivity - when you want every article on your topic and are willing to sort through many irrelevant results. 

 

Video: Specificity Vs Sensitivity

Click the play button to watch the video below, explaining specificity Vs sensitivity in comprehensive searching (1:29).

 

 

Too many irrelevant results?

Mei got many irrelevant results. So, she added some relevant limits. 

 

Screen capture of Mei's changed limits

 

 

 

 

 

 

Publication Date 

Past 5 years, 10 years, custom dates

Language 

Only English 

Title / Abstract Searching

The default search option for many databases will search across many fields within an article record including, Author, Affiliation, etc. To make the search terms more focused, and the results more relevant, limit the search to the Title and Abstract fields only.

This is especially useful when the search terms can be found in Affiliations (author’s addresses) – Centre for Obesity Prevention, School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences Australia, Brigham Young University Women Studies – this can lead to unexpected search results!

 

Video: Adding some limits

Click the play button to watch the video below, explaining what some of the options available to limit if you have too many results including limiting to specific fields - Title and Abstract (4:19).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now with the proximity search and TI AB field limits added, Mei's search planner now looks like this (see below)

 

 

 

Main search terms as stated in your topic description above

Similar search terms for those concepts:

using truncation* e.g. adolescen* will find adolescent, adolescents, adolescence

wild cards? e.g wom?n will find woman, women

organi?ation will find e.g organization, organisation

To search a phase (2 or more words) use double quote marks “ e.g climate change

Limits: (Publication dates, language, peer reviewed etc).

Concept 1 TI (“physical activit*” OR exercis* OR sport*) OR AB (“physical activit*” OR exercis* OR sport*)

2009 -2019

English

AND
Concept 2 TI (intervention* or program* or strateg* or framework* or guideline* or policy or polices) OR AB (intervention* or program* or strateg* or framework* or guideline* or policy or polices)
AND
Concept 3 TI (obes* or overweight or "high bmi" or "high body mass index") OR AB (obes* or overweight or "high bmi" or "high body mass index")   
AND
Concept 4 TI ((adolescen* or teen* or young) N2 (wom?n or female*)) OR AB ((adolescen* or teen* or young) N2 (wom?n or female*))  

 

Course presentation

Work your way through the ‘How to do a subject search’ activity below.

 

DOWNLOAD TEXT VERSION

 

Not many relevant results?

Mei didn't get many relevant results! She may want to check her search strategy:

 

Check if truncation has been used correctly

 

Any spelling mistakes? 

 

Have you correctly applied double quote marks to both sides of a phrase?

 

Correct use of wildcards?

 

Have you used the AND & OR correctly?

 

When Mei uses ‘AND’ to connect search terms, the database will retrieve records containing all the connected terms. 

 

Activity

Test your skills! Work your way through the ‘Revise your search’ activity below.

 

 


 

Evaluate your search

 

 

 

 

Mei checks her results to see if they match her topic – there will always be a few that match the search terms but may not be quite on topic.  

Mei has a highly relevant article! She can check the subject headings and terms used in the abstract for any other terms to add to her search.  

 

 

 

As part of your studies you may have come across the term ‘peer review’. Articles are reviewed / appraised by subject experts before being published. 

Note: all journals are peer reviewed in Medline Complete. 

 

There are also different types of articles – original research (e.g. randomized controlled trials, cohort studies etc.), literature review, systematic review etc. A systematic review is a very thorough and comprehensive synthesis of selected studies on a specific topic. It can be a useful way to find research articles on a topic. 

To find systematic reviews add to your search AND “systematic review*”

 


 

Access

 

 

 

Well done! Mei has found some useful results and now needs to access the full text of the articles, not just an abstract or summary.

 

Course presentation

Work your way through the ‘Accessing the Full Text’ course presentation below.

 

 

Activity

Work your way through the Accessing the Full Text activity below.

 

 

 


 

Appraise

 

 

 

“I found some articles but how do I know if they are good quality, valid articles?”

Mei

Postgraduate Health

 

 

 

 

Critically appraise each article to evaluate its quality and reliability.

Here are some steps and resources to help Mei do this. 

 

Course presentation

Work your way through the ‘Appraise’ course presentation below.

 

 

DOWNLOAD TEXT VERSION

 

Academic Skills staff have created a page on critical thinking, reading and note taking. These skills are essential for your study success.

 

Activity

Work your way through the ‘Appraise’ activity below.

 

 

Exporting results from Medline Complete to EndNote

If you are using EndNote, here is an additional step. 

 

Mei needs to export the articles she has found into EndNote.

EndNote is a type of reference management software that can help you reference appropriately.

When using EndNote, it’s important that you understand how to reference correctly as EndNote can sometimes be wrong.

More information about using EndNote is available in the EndNote guide.

You may export references one article at a time or if you have a lot of results you can export multiple references all at once.

 

Course presentation

Work your way through the ‘Exporting results from Medline Complete to EndNote’ course presentation below.

 

DOWNLOAD TEXT VERSION

 

 

Video: Exporting large results

Click the play button to watch the video below, explaining how to export large result set from Medline Complete into EndNote (5:34).

 

 


 

 

Wrap up

 

 

 

Mei has completed the Systematic searching module and is now confident in her ability to systematically search databases.

She can prepare, run, review / revise, access and appraise the search results as well as the search strategies.

She has successfully exported the results into EndNote.

As a final test of your understanding, of all the skills you’ve learnt throughout this systematic searching module, please complete the survey below.

Completion of the survey will provide feedback about the module and a summary of responses that can be saved / printed, by you, as proof of completion and emailed to your lecturer / supervisor if required.

 

Masters Health Systematic Searching Survey