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How to undertake a literature search: enhancing your search

23 April 2020
Volume 29 · Issue 8


This article follows on from a previous article on how to carry out a literature search (Watson, 2020) and looks at how you can enhance your search by going beyond journal databases to using search engines, websites and grey literature sources. Ways to evaluate the resources you find, the use of critical appraisal tools and factors to consider when presenting your results are also discussed.

Once you have carried out your literature search, as discussed by Watson (2020) in the previous issue of BJN, it is important to have a final check that you have found all possible articles. Look at your search strategies for each database you have used, checking for spelling errors. Have some search terms found few or no references? Consider whether you need to include US spellings or synonyms. It may be helpful to ask a fellow student or colleague to check whether you have missed anything.

Before thinking about other resources, do beware of bias in your results. Three areas of possible bias are database bias, time-lag bias and publication bias. Database bias means relying too much on only one or two databases, so use as many relevant databases to which your workplace or university can provide access. CINAHL is unlikely to be sufficient alone—so consider using other nursing databases, such as the British Nursing Index or EMCARE. Also try specialist databases, such as Midwifery & Infant Care, AMED for complementary therapy items or PsycINFO for psychosocial topics. If you are unfamiliar with searching a particular database, see what assistance is available by way of guides, online tutorials or face-to-face training sessions. Royal College of Nursing (RCN) members can access help at our Support webpages (RCN Library, 2020a).

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