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Pharmacology: Literature review

This is a guide to information resources and searching skills for pharmacology staff and students.

Literature reviews - comprehensive search strategies

Research usually requires an inital, and often ongoing, review of the literature to:

  • establish an overview of the existing research
  • identify gaps in the literature
  • place research in context
  • justify research

Conducting an extensive search of the literature is different to finding a few articles for an assignment, and requires a carefully planned search strategy.

To begin with:

  1. Make an appointment with your contact librarian for assistance with resources and advanced search techniques.
  2. Consider your main topic. What questions are you trying to answer?
  3. Do your background reading. Use specialist reference material (eg. medical encyclopedias), textbooks and other academic texts to extend your understanding of the established knowledge of your area. This will help to shape your searches.
  4. Identify your major concepts and write them down.
  5. Brainstorm for synonyms, alternative terminology and spellings for each of your concepts. Use your background reading to assist with this.
  6. Select databases to search, you may need to use more than one.
  7. Make use of the database thesaurus. This is a controlled list of subjects which are used to index records. This is powerful, precise searching. Ask your contact librarian for assistance.
  8. Run keyword searches in conjunction with your thesaurus searches. Keyword searching captures terms in the title, abstract and subjects of a database record, and it is important to consider synonyms and alternative spellings.
  9. Apply limits to focus the search. Most databases allow results to be limited to years of publication; others will also limit to age groups, study types and publication types.
  10. Treat the search like a draft. Look at the results and jot down additional, useful terms.
  11. Search the grey literature.  This is unpublished material, and can include theses, white papers, technical reports and government publications.
  12. Manage references. Attend an EndNote class, and learn to export your search results into an EndNote library.
  13. Maintain current awareness. Save your search in the database and set up autoalerts - you will be emailed when new records match your search.