This page contains useful tips and guidance on planning your search strategy, and adapting it for the various databases that you will need to search.
A search strategy is a set of search terms combined in such a way to maximise the number of relevant records retrieved in a database search.
Designing a search strategy is the first step in effectively reviewing the literature in your area of interest. If you don't use the correct terms or don't combine them correctly, you will either not get enough relevant results, or you will be overwhelmed with a large number of irrelevant records.
This page will guide you through the search strategy process, allowing you to create an effective search strategy that you can use to find relevant journal articles for your topic.
Note that designing an effective search strategy can be time-consuming, so make sure you allow enough time for this part of your research!
The Library has many books to help you with literature searching and designing your search strategy. Here are just a few that you might find useful; try the Library Search for the full range of titles.
Ensure that you have a clear understanding of your research question and its key components. You may want to use a research framework to help structure your question. Some examples are:
|cognitive behaviour therapy
cognitive behavioural therapy
cognitive behavior therapy
cognitive behavioral therapy
avoidant restrictive food intake disorder
(cognitive behavio* therapy OR cbt) AND (adolescen* OR teen* OR young person OR young people OR young adult*) AND (eating disorder* OR anorexia nervosa OR bulimia OR orthorexia OR pica OR avoidant restrictive food intake disorder OR arfid)
NB you will need to adapt this initial search string for each database as they have different syntax and search features (see box below).
You may find it helpful to use the following blank Word document template to help plan your search strategy (see the second document for a completed example):
If you are already familiar with some databases which are relevant to your research question, you can consider using those in the first instance. The best place to source databases is through the Library pages where your subject librarian will have listed all that are useful and available along with information about each.
Google Scholar is often considered to be a starting point but for scoping reviews your supervisor will need to know that you have searched for peer reviewed materials. The Library subscribes to databases which index peer reviewed and other recognised categories of scholarly sources.
If your research question is multi-disciplinary you may also need to select databases from other subject areas.
The Library Article Search searches all of the journals which there are subscriptions to. It is a good option to search across all subject areas though it very much depends on your topic. To avoid being overwhelmed with results, you can ask your subject librarian for help with selecting databases.
In addition to peer-reviewed journal articles, you will need to consider grey literature. This includes conference papers, papers in process, pre prints, theses, official publications, and other non commercially published materials. The Library’s Subject Guides provide access to a range of sources for this form of literature.
If you need additional support with your search strategy, you can contact your subject librarian.
With a list of databases and your search strategy ready, you can now test the search strings by typing them into the database and checking they work with the syntax matching the database requirements. If this appears successful then you can carry out the search formally, applying date and publication type criteria, followed by screening and saving your results a outlined below.
Each database will allow you to decide where you want your search terms to be found by selecting one or more specific metadata fields e..g. this is an image of the first page of an article.
Databases identify all these sections of an article separately (meta data fields) and allow you to then choose which field(s) to search.
Search strings developed with natural and academic language are usually pointed at the title, author, keyword and abstract fields.
Databases also have a subject index which is described in Useful search tips in Step 2. It is important to consider searching with subject headings and you may find it helpful to do so as a separate search.
It may be the case that you will need to pursue the following additional searching activities in order to locate pertinent materials:
Some journals and other research output may not have been indexed in an online databases and only available to you in print format. This means you will need to search through the printed volumes by hand to make sure you haven't missed any relevant research.
When you read articles you'll see reference to other research which you will need to source.
Contacting relevant researchers
Where research is ongoing or you wish to identify whether the authors of works are still active in the area you may wish to contact them. They may have primary unpublished data relating to the studies which you need.
Inter Library Loan Service
Where it has not bee possible to gain online full text access to articles, book chapters or reports, you may wish to source them through the Inter Library Loan service.