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Evidence and Literature Searching

Evidence and Literature Searching

You can find evidence on a topic of your choice and access full text articles by searching the Knowledge and Library Hub Search tool. This tool is recommended for simple and quick searches. See also the Guidance on using the Knowledge and Library Hub Search.

For complex topics or for a more comprehensive search, it is advisable to use a bibliographic database. Access to any databases will be from the providers' websites: Ovid, EBSCO and ProQuest.

To help you with using these search interfaces, we have collated training materials for each platform.

Evidence Search Service

If you need a search done urgently you can also request an evidence search.  You will need to use OpenAthens credentials to register with KnowledgeShare and make a request.  Please allow sufficient time for the search to be completed as we are a very small team.

Please note we cannot offer our literature search service for students as learning to search for evidence is a skill to be learned as part of your course, and must be your own work. For help finding and selecting literature you should contact your university library in the first instance. Please read our Students' LibGuide for further information on support the Library can offer you as a student. 

If you need further help with training, get in touch at and we can arrange a one-to-one or group training session at a time and place of your convenience.

Planning and running a search

It is important to be methodical when planning and conducting your literature search, to make sure you get all the relevant information. Be sure to follow these steps before you try to search the database:

  1. Get your search topic into a single sentence or answerable question. For example, "What evidence is there for the use of parenteral nutrition for people with cystic fibrosis?"
  2. Break down your topic into its separate concepts. In the above example that would be "parenteral nutrition" + "cystic fibrosis". If appropriate, you can use the PICO framework (Population/Patient, Intervention, Comparison, Outcome) to identify the separate concepts in your search topic.
  3. For each concept in your search topic, identify all the relevant keywords you'll want to use, including exact or rough synonyms (e.g. search for the phrase "parenteral feeding" as well as "parenteral nutrition"). Consider acronyms or abbreviations you might want to include (e.g. "CF" for "cystic fibrosis"), alternative spelling (e.g. leukemia vs leukaemia), plurals (child, children).
  4. Decide on the limits of your search results (date published, type of evidence, language etc)
  5. Take a top-down approach when searching; start with Discovery Search tool and other secondary evidence sources that synthesise and summarise the findings of research, like point-of-care tools BMJ Best Practice, Dynamed, UpToDate: if you can find a very recent synthesis or summary or systematic review that answers your search question then you may not need to look any further. These secondary sources typically respond well to more naturalistic search strings, so you can try typing in your search topic nearly in-full... But to find the most current evidence you will likely have to search the primary research databases using native interfaces, and these databases do NOT respond well to naturalistic search strings, so this is where the keywords and synonyms you identified earlier came in.
  6. When searching primary research databases, look for each of the concepts in your search topic separately. Combine all the synonyms etc. you identified using the OR Boolean operator, then combine the separate topics' combined synonymous searches using the AND Boolean operator.
  7. You should also use subject headings also called thesaurus terms to find articles on a topic that you would otherwise miss if you were searching using only text terms. You can find appropriate subject headings Always choose to "explode" your subject headings by selecting the "exp" box, as this is the most inclusive option.
  8. So in the example above you would text search for "cystic fibrosis", then "CF", then find the "exp CYSTIC FIBROSIS"/ subject heading, and combine those 3 synonymous searches using the OR operator.
  9. After this you would text search for "parenteral* nutrition*", then "parenteral feed*", then find the "exp PARENTERAL NUTRITION"/ subject heading, and combine those 3 synonymous searches using the OR operator.
  10. Then combine your separate concept searches using the AND operator to get JUST the research that features information on both cystic fibrosis/CF AND parenteral nutrition/parenteral feeding... * This will give you a search strategy that you can then adapt to any database! You can easily repeat your search in several databases using the native interfaces.
  11. Apply any date limits or language limits etc to your final set(s) of results, and save results to your saved folder, and/or export the results as a document or as a file you can add to reference management software like Sciwheel or Endnote (see the videos below for more information on this - #18 in the playlist).