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BIOL 130L Research Guide: Searching databases for articles

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Quick Tips and Shortcuts for Database Searching (5:19)

When to use a citation index

Articles that cite your article can be relevant to your research. Discover how a known idea or innovation has been confirmed, applied, improved, extended, or corrected.  Databases that include citation searching: 

Tips for improving your literature search

  • Do the literature search before performing the research, and certainly before writing the paper.
  • Do a citation search. You can look for potentially relevant and interesting articles by scanning through reference lists and blibliographies, many of which will now be directly linked to those articles.
  • Don't be afraid to look in fields outside your discipline - try different search keywords
  • Document each promising paper.  Do not rely on your memory alone.
  • Search by publication date and scan over articles in press. By searching for the most recently published content on your subject, you can ensure that your manuscript captures the latest communal knowledge in the field.

Source: How to Write a Good Scientific Paper (2018). C.A. Mack. Link below.

Searching databases for articles

  1. Create an account: Select the databases that you plan to search and create an account. This will allow you to SAVE your work and NOT LOSE IT!
  2. Do some test searches in order to 
    • select search terms (if adjustments/correction should to be made)
    • identify controlled vocabulary (ie. MeSH/Emtree) that should be used
    • identify the field codes that will work best for your search (ie. [tiab] in Pubmed)
  3. Use your "Existing SR Info Sheet and Updated Search" to track your work. You may edit this search as you go but it is important to keep a record of your draft work so you don't lose it.

Additional search strategies

Filters (also called hedges) are searches that have been created for you on a specific topic. These can save valuable time. Use them verbatim or use them as inspiration for your systematic search and adjust accordingly. 

decorative image of hedge

Change Keywords - Choose Broader/Narrower Synonyms 

fish    - broad general term

trout     - specific family of fish

fundulus - scientific name for a fish (mummichog)

2.  Phrases   words searched side by side in a specific order 

"endocrine disruption"

"hazardous wastes"

3. Truncation  *  accounts for different word endings    

disrupt* =  disrupting disruption, disrupt, disrupted

"hazardous waste* " - truncate within a phrase

4. Connect keywords with operators    

(fish* OR trout OR fundulus) AND "endocrine disrupt*"

 Enter the above search strategy or statement into the search box of a research database.

  • You can conduct a narrow search on a specific topic, eg., "Lambert-Beer Law" in Oxford Reference Online 
  • Or, you can conduct a broad search on a general topic and then narrow to a specific topic
    • Eg.,: Search for "enzyme" and "biochemistry" in Knovel to find the book Biochemistry - Essential Concepts by Hardin and Knopp
    • Then, within the book, search for variations on test/topic names such as:
      • biuret reaction, biuret test, biuret reagent

Screening search results

Screening search results can be a very time consuming process and requires a high attention to detail. Once you have completed ALL of your searches, you will be ready to:

  1. Export your search results to a reference manager
    • See the section below "Reference Management" for links to export/import guides for your selected reference manager
  2. De-duplicate articles
  3. Start screening

Screening step-by-step

Step 1: Import references into your reference manager

  • Create a folder for each database searched, i.e. MEDLINE, EMBASE, PsycINFO, Scopus…
  • Import references and sort into appropriate folders
  • Total and then record the number of records for all the database folders
  • Backup all folders, if possible

Step 2: Remove Duplicates

  • Delete duplicate versions of the same article
  • Record new total number of records for all the database folders

Step 3: Initial Screening

  • Create folders for Initial screening process. They are:
    • Initial_Screen_No
    • Initial_Screen_Yes
    • Initial_Screen_Maybe
  • Review abstracts and sort records into the appropriate folder
    • The Maybe folder will contain articles which may meet your criteria but you need to read the full paper for more details.
    • This is done in the second screening.
  • Backup all folders, if possible

Step 4: Second Screening

  • Obtain full text articles for all records in the “Include” and “Maybe” folders
  • Create folders for 2nd screening
  • Read full text articles and sort records into folders
    • Second screen – Include
    • Second screen – Exclude

(Adapted from J. Stapleton, University of Waterloo Library, Sept. 2019)