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Literature Searching: Getting Started

Planning your search

Why do you need to plan your search?

Planning your search before starting to look for information is an essential part of the process as:

  • it will save you time
  • your search will be more structured
  • your results will be more relevant

Here is an example topic to help you get started:

Imagine you are interested in finding out whether there's any evidence to suggest that pilates can reduce the risk of falls in older people

1. Write your search as a question or a sentence

You may already have been given an assignment question, but if not, turn your thoughts into a question or a sentence.  This is our example topic above written as a question:

In older people, is pilates effective in reducing falls?

2. Identify the important words and phrases

Highlight the keywords in your question or sentence.  Here is our example question with the key concepts highlighted:

In older people, is pilates effective in reducing falls?

3. Think of alternative terms and spellings

Most databases will search for exactly what you type in, so the next step is to think of any alternative words and spellings for these concepts.  Think about:

  • synonyms - different words with the same or similar meaning eg older adults / elderly
  • alternative words and spellings used in different countries especially America eg orthopaedics / orthopedics
  • Acronyms or abbreviations eg BMI, BCA
  • variation in word endings / plurals - eg falls / falling

In our example topic, there are several alternative terms for older people and for falls, but not for pilates:

older people pilates falls
older adults   falling
elderly   balance

4. Decide on the scope of your topic

You may want to limit your search to ensure your results are relevant to your topic or to avoid retrieving too many results.  Different databases have different options for limiting your search, but the most common ones are:

language - you may want to limit your references to those written in English

date - you may only be interested in references published after a certain date

age group - you may only be interested in children or older adults for example