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Systematic Search for Health

Exploring your topic

Exploratory searching is an important step in systematic searching as it informs you about the literature available for your review.

Exploratory searches will help you check if similar reviews have been recently published and identify if relevant literature is available for your review topic. Thorough exploratory searching can set you on the right path early on and avoid redundant research, assess the gaps in current knowledge and refine the scope of your topic.

Throughout this process, you will read widely to better understand your topic and discover the terminology used by different authors. You will identify relevant articles to form a ‘gold set’ and you will start collecting relevant terminology to start building your list of keywords. 

What is a gold set?

The 'gold set' is a selection of articles matching your topic/research question. You may have found gold set articles already or your supervisor and research team members may share some. You decide on and select these articles as an important first step in your review. Continue to add to your gold set as you develop your systematic search


What are gold set articles used for?

  • Identify important authors, keywords (search terms) and subject headings for your search strategy
  • Find other relevant articles for the gold set and review through snowball or citation searching 
  • To test the effectiveness of your search strategy later in the troubleshooting and testing stage

What should your gold set articles do?

  • Appear in the results of your final searches
  • Match your research question – Do not include irrelevant articles  
  • Be a diverse collection – articles will be from a wide range of sources, countries and authors, using a varied range of keywords to describe the topic

How do they help your search?

  • Use them to build and test the comprehensiveness of your search strategy
  • The more relevant the gold set articles are, the more relevant your search strategy will be
  • Building your search upon a diverse gold set enables you to find a broad range of relevant literature

Your Task

Review the information on this page, then action the below steps to explore your topic:

Collect relevant articles to form your gold set
Analyse your gold set articles for keywords

Check for existing reviews on your topic

Finding similar systematic-like reviews on your topic can help you make decisions about your own review. 

  • If a similar review has been published recently, you may want to reconsider or reframe your question.
  • If you discover an older review on your topic, you may wish to update the review or contact the authors to see if they plan an update.
  • If you find reviews which tackle similar ideas to your topic, this can help you with discovering key information about your topic and developing a list of keywords.

See our Systematic and systematic-like review toolkit for more information about searching for existing reviews.

Where to explore your topic

Looking for relevant research on your topic will help you plan and build an effective search strategy.

Expand the sections below to access tools for finding relevant articles and learn which search techniques are applicable.

Google Scholar

Searching Google Scholar

Google Scholar is a valuable tool for finding articles that are too new or otherwise not indexed in your chosen databases. Copy and paste the main themes from your topic into the search box and explore the first page of results. You can also do a search that limits results to the last two years so that you can make sure you've captured the latest publications.


What search techniques can be applied in Google Scholar?

  • Alternative keywords 
  • Boolean operators
  • Phrase searching 
  • Parentheses 


How to search in Google Scholar?

  1. Run a search using the main themes from your research question. 
  2. Scan the titles and abstracts in the results and save any articles that are relevant.
  3. Run a series of searches to see different results. Do this by adjusting themes you've entered and checking the results each time. Try using synonyms, switching the order of words, or adding and removing themes. 
  4. To find existing reviews, add "systematic review" to your search.

NOTE: Google can only find the words you input, it won’t find alternative keywords for you, so you have to try lots of different combinations. 

Deakin Library Search

Searching Deakin Library

Deakin Library Search is a great starting point to locate a range of resources, including academic articles and systematic reviews that are held in our collection.


What search techniques can be applied in Deakin Library Search?

  • Alternative keywords 
  • Boolean operators 
  • Truncation 
  • Phrase searching 
  • Proximity searching

How to search in Deakin Library search?

  1. Run a search using the main themes from your research question. 
  2. Scan the titles and abstracts in the results and save any articles that are relevant.
  3. Run a series of searches to see different results. Do this by adjusting themes you've entered and checking the results each time. Try using synonyms, or adding and removing themes. 
  4. To find existing reviews, add "systematic review" to your search.

Citation Databases

Searching citation databases

The most recommended citation databases to use are Scopus and Web of Science. Searching citation databases is helpful to find additional relevant articles. Citation databases can:

  • Find resources mentioned from an article's reference list
  • Find resources that have cited the article
  • Find other resources that were published by an article’s author/s


What search techniques can be applied in Citation databases?

  • Key concepts
  • Phrase searching


How to search in Citation databases?

  1. Copy and paste the titles of relevant articles into the search bar
  2. Run the search in Scopus, one title at a time
  3. Locate the relevant article
  4. View the articles from the reference list
  5. View other material published by the article’s authors
  6. View newer articles that have cited this article
  7. Focus on articles which include all your key concepts

Check out the video (4:58) below to see how to perform a search in the citation database Scopus.

Collecting your gold set articles

Now that you’ve identified some gold set articles, the next step is organising your findings into a Summary Literature Table. This table will help you develop a clear and organised overview of the key aspects of your gold set articles, helping you identify patterns, trends, and additional keywords.

Download the Summary Literature Table document and enter the relevant details from each of your gold set articles into the defined categories. 

You can also use the second page of the Summary Literature Table to record your findings throughout your review of the literature. This involves summarising the main objectives, methodologies employed, key findings, and any other pertinent information essential to understanding the article's contribution to your research.

Analysing the gold set for keywords

When analysing the gold set (comparing and mining terms), consider the below steps to guide your analysis: 

  1. Identify concepts
    List the main ideas or themes of your research question and assign each of these concepts a highlight colour.
  2. Highlight similar words
    One concept at a time, highlight synonyms and equivalent terms used in the title and abstract of your gold set. Only add the most relevant ones to your search.
  3. Note keywords
    Note down any terms which can or should be incorporated into your search to improve its comprehensiveness and diversity
  4. Identify any further info
    Note any other relevant information such as subject headings applied to the article record in each relevant database, prominent authors, etc.

While there are many ways to store, anlayse and organise your gold set data, we will demonstrate a visual method in the table below. As you can see, three sample articles have been set out including data on the title, abstract, key authors and citation.


Example gold set analysis 

Topic: Examining the effects of helicopter parenting on the development of college-aged individuals 

Concepts: Helicopter parenting, college-aged individuals 

Title Helicopter Parenting and the Mental Health of iGen College Students Authoritative parenting and college students' academic adjustment and success Black hawk down?: Establishing helicopter parenting as a distinct construct from other forms of parental control during emerging adulthood
Abstract Sample Helicopter parenting is a type of over-parenting in which parents hover over their college students, ready to intervene at a moment's notice to protect and micromanage their emerging adult's personal and academic life. Constant monitoring by parents may have a negative impact on mental health by decreasing a sense of independence and self-efficacy. Current traditional undergraduate students comprise the cohort of youth in the iGen generation. With the advent of smartphones, parents' surveillance adds to the "culture of safetyism" that predominates on college campuses, leading to mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and eating disorders. Psychiatric-mental health nurses need to be aware of the effects of helicopter parenting on the development of college students and encourage youth to engage in challenging educational and social activities that promote autonomy and independence. This study examined connections between college students' adjustment and success and characteristics of their relationships with their parents. A sample of 236 students completed the Student Attitudes and Perceptions Survey, a 135-item anonymous self-report instrument. Students' grades, confidence level, persistence, task involvement, and rapport with their teachers were generally predicted by both current and childhood levels of parental autonomy granting, demandingness, and supportiveness. Ratings of parenting characteristics were equally predictive of adjustment and success among students living with their parents and those living on their own. They were somewhat less predictive of seniors' adjustment and success than they were for freshmen, sophomores, and juniors. These findings suggest that parenting style continues to play an important role in the academic lives of college students. (APA PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2016 APA, all rights reserved) The purpose of the current study was to establish a measure of helicopter parenting that was distinct from other forms of parental control, and to examine parental and behavioral correlates of helicopter parenting. Participants included 438 undergraduate students from four universities in the United States (Mage = 19.65, SD = 2.00, range = 18–29; 320 women, 118 men), and at least one of their parents. Analyses revealed that helicopter parenting loaded on a separate factor from both behavioral and psychological control, and that helicopter parenting was positively associated with behavioral and psychological control, but not at levels suggesting complete overlap. Results also revealed that helicopter parenting was positively associated with parental involvement and with other positive aspects of the parent–child relationship; but negatively associated with parental autonomy granting and school engagement. Discussion focuses on the implications of helicopter parenting for healthy development during emerging adulthood.
Citation Wieland, D. M., & Kucirka, B. G. (2020). Helicopter parenting and the mental health of iGen college students. Journal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health Services, 58(5), 16–22. Strage, A., & Brandt, T. S. (1999). Authoritative parenting and college students' academic adjustment and success. Journal of Educational Psychology, 91(1), 146.

Padilla-Walker, L. M., & Nelson, L. J. (2012). Black hawk down?: Establishing helicopter parenting as a distinct construct from other forms of parental control during emerging adulthood. Journal of Adolescence, 35(5), 1177-1190.


Medline, APA PsycINFO 

APA PsycINFO Medline, APA PsycINFO
PMID 31846046 N/A 22503075


The benefit of the gold set for your search strategy

By preparing a gold set and doing a thorough analysis of the articles you can develop a good grasp of the vocabulary used to describe the topic, and awareness of the literature available on the topic. This knowledge can set you up with a clear and comprehensive start to your search strategy.

See the below example of concepts and terms, where highlighted terms are newly added from the gold set analysis.

Concepts Alternative words/synonyms
Helicopter parenting "helicopter parent*" "parental control" "parental relationship" "parental autonomy" "parent* surveillance" "over parenting" overparenting
College-aged individuals "university student*" "tertiary student*" youth* "college student*" undergraduate* "young adult*" "emerging adult*"