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Expert Searching

The Literature Review Process

There are eight distinct steps that will assist you in moving through a literature search.

  1. Write down your topic in a way to identify the key concepts and issues that you want to address. You may find it helpful to structure the topic in a PICO format (P = Patient, Population, I = Intervention, C = Comparison or Control, O = Outcomes). Although it is not necessary to use all elements of the PICO in the search strategy, this will help you frame the topic into a translatable framework. Use the PICO worksheet and the Search Building Worksheets below to help keep track of your research concepts and search terms.
  2. Do some background research to see what's already been written about the topic. You may find it helpful to search books and journals through the library catalog, as well as databases that may be relevant to your topic.
  3. Narrow down the topic, if necessary. You may find that the original question is too broad. After you have done the background research, you will have a better idea of what specifically you are interested in.
  4. Decide on the scope and nature of your review. What types of research are you interested in? Are you prepared to do title and abstract screening? What are you hoping to address with your research?
  5. Create and execute your database searches. Searching is an iterative process, so you may need to test and refine before setting on your final search strategy. Your search strategy should use a combination of keywords and controlled vocabulary terms to represent each concept of your research topic. Combine your search concepts using AND, OR, or NOT to refine or broaden your search.
  6. Examine and evaluate your results to make sure that they could potentially answer your research question. This is the point to make changes before proceeding.
  7. Export and screen your results. Using a citation manager will allow you to remove duplicates when you screen. Your informationist can also recommend screening software and strategies. For more information on using a citation manager, see our citation management guide.
  8. Extrapolate the data and evidence to draw conclusions about your research topic.

Are you interested in different types of reviews? See our guidance on performing specific types of literature reviews.

Clinical Search Building Worksheets

Use the worksheets linked above to build and document your search. You are able to download, fill the form, and save the document.