Librarians endeavor to provide expert information services to faculty, staff, and students in academic departments and Wegner Partners.
Contacting your librarian is encouraged before and during your review process. Librarians are happy to help you throughout the review process, including scoping the literature, building search strategies, assisting with database selection, and more.
If you are unsure of who the librarian liaison is for your department, this list is organized by college and department.
You don't want your question to be too broad or narrow. You may want to do a quick scope of the literature to get a sense of how your question should be focused. Using a framework can help organize your research question into searchable concepts and clarify the criteria for selecting relevant studies. A common framework is PICO.
P - Population or Problem
I - Intervention
C - Comparison or Control
O - Outcomes
The PICO framework is mostly used for interventional topics or questions of effectiveness. Not every question is comparing two treatments or interventions, so you may not always have a comparison.
There are a variety of frameworks available. Therefore, if your question doesn't fit the PICO framework, you may want to try another one. Here are a few additional options.
CoCoPop - Condition, Context, Population. Used for incidence and prevalence.
PIRD - Population, Index test, Reference test, Diagnosis of interest. Used for diagnostic test accuracy.
PEO - Population, Exposure of interest, Outcome. Used for etiology and risk.
PCC - Population Concept, Context. Used for scoping-type reviews.
When thinking about keyword selection:
British English spelling AND American English spelling
Many subject databases (e.g., PubMed, CINAHL) have controlled vocabulary. However, multidisciplinary databases, such as Web of Science, do not have a controlled vocabulary and you will need to search them using keywords only.
The chart below shows a select set of databases and what their controlled vocabulary is called.
Boolean operators are the terms used to combine concepts and keywords in your search strategy. Boolean operators are typically capitalized in most databases. Boolean operators include AND, OR, and NOT.
AND is used to link concepts or ideas together when you want to see both ideas or concepts in your search results. AND narrows the search.
OR is used between like terms (synonyms, acronyms, spelling variations) within the same concept or idea. OR broadens the search.
NOT is used to exclude specific keywords from the search. Use NOT with caution because you may end up excluding something important. Consulting a librarian is recommended if you are considering using NOT in your search.
Proximity and adjacency operators allow you to search terms that near or next to each other.
Near or Adjacency find words within n words of one another, regardless of the order in which they appear.
Common Near operators:
Next or Within finds words within n words of one another in the exact order in which they have been entered.
Common Next operators:
Search filters, or search hedges, are strategies that have been pre-developed on a specific topic or study type. Using a validated search filter is recommended because they are tested for reliability and accuracy.
Do NOT confuse these with the limits found in databases, such as the limits on the left-hand side of PubMed. Be cautious if you use those as they have special algorithms that only pull references using database-specific controlled vocabulary.
Validated search filters can be found in the following sites:
Your search should be reproducible and transparent so others know how you retrieved your results and can replicate the search to get the same results. More often, publishers and journals will request a copy of your search strategy as an appendix or supplementary material with your manuscript.
Documenting your search will also save you time when you need to rerun, revise, or update the search strategy.
When documenting your search, you should keep track of the following information:
Use whatever software or program with which you are comfortable documenting and saving your searches. Some commonly used:
More than one database should be searched when doing any type of review. Databases index different resources and vary in their scope and coverage. When it is time for database selection, you want to look at all the aspects of your topic.
Do not confuse databases with platforms. Platforms are search interfaces, like search engines or hosts for databases. Mentioning only the platform that was used is not reproducible nor transparent. Platforms include EBSCOhost, ProQuest, and Ovid. You will want to note which database within a platform you have searched, not just the platform. Examples: EBSCOhost CINAHL and Ovid Medline.
The following chart gives examples of subject-focused databases; this list is not exhaustive. To view databases by subject, visit USD's database list and filter by a specific subject.