Where do you begin when developing a search strategy? Start from what you know! You probably have a few articles you feel are right on target for your research question, or at least ones that are close to your area of interest. You might have literature reviews (standard or systematic) that relate to it. All of those will yield valuable terminology, authors, references, and other information that can help you design an effective search.
You'll start with lots of exploratory searches to determine the most useful vocabulary and databases on which to focus your efforts. The more thoroughly you document your efforts, the more comprehensive and successful your final searches will be. Below are some strategies that will help you with this process.
You'll be crafting a complex search strategy. Creating a concept table is one effective way to ensure your search is thorough and replicable. You'll use it to define the main ideas in your research question and track all the terminology you've used.
You can open and copy a concept table (either the Sheets or Docs version, depending on your preference) to your own Google Drive to develop your concept table in preparation for searching.
There are two kinds of search terms: keywords and controlled vocabulary.
When you being brainstorming keywords:
Watch this short video to see how you might approach this process in your concept table!
Consider whether there are different forms of a word that interests you. In library databases, searching for any ending of a word is called "truncation." Frequently you can use a * to truncate a word, but the symbol can vary among different databases. In some cases, you can use a "wildcard" to find alternative spellings that fall inside a word, rather than at the end.
Some examples are below. Different databases allow for different truncation and wildcard options. In the examples below, you'll notice that PubMed allows for truncation (use the * symbol) but not wildcard searching. PsycInfo allows for both: * for multiple characters, # for one optional character, and ? for exactly one character.
Terms may be spelled differently depending on the researchers' language background
Abbreviations may be useful
Singular, plural, and more
Some words have even more forms
In an evidence synthesis like a meta-analysis, it's vital to document:
A common reporting mechanism for this is PRISMA (now PRISMA 2020); the PRISMA-S extension is designed to provide the most accurate and replicable reporting of your search
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