Literature searching FAQs                  


For further information regarding literature searching contact Rachel Posaner 

How do I request a literature search & how long will it take?


It is a requirement of your course that you learn the skill of performing a efficient and effective literature search.

We provide training sessions on how to put together and implement a successful search strategy on relevant databases.

We also provide a collection of resources to help you on your Canvas or Blackboard pages..

All other users

We perform literature searches as part of your the library service. To request a literature search:

We aim to send results to you within four working days. If you need your results sooner than that, let us know when you request your search.

I am doing my own searches, where do I start?

Start by looking at the information available on the literature searching page  on our website, or, if you are a student, on your Canvas or Blackboard pages.

There are instructions on how to conduct a literature search including an online demonstration and an interactive tutorial you can complete at your own pace.

You could also book a session with one of the library staff who will demonstrate a literature search for you.

Where do I access the databases?

Members of the University can access databases via FindIt@Bham. you will need your university user name and password.

NHS Employees can access several databases via NHS Evidence. To do this you will need an NHS Athens password.

You can access our own subscription of HMIC. Contact us for the login details.

Which database should I use?

This depends on the topic you are going to research. If you log into the eLibrary and click on the eResources tab at the top of the page, you will find another tab ‘Browse subject’.

See our guide to the different databases.

Should I use the university FindIt@Bham or NHS Evidence as I can use both?

The same databases are available from both sources but the provider of them is different. This means that you will get the same results from either one but the web site you use looks different.

The University uses the Ovid interface whilst NHS Evidence has created an interface to match the rest of their web site.

We tend to use the Ovid interface and our training sessions and guides are based on this.

Why can't I just use Google, Google Scholar or Wikipaedia?

Google is a great Internet search engine when looking for a specific piece of information. However, because is not targeted at those within higher education it does bring up a lot of irrelevant material such as adverts, inappropriate webpages and un-accessible resources.

Google Scholar is a freely available resource to help you search for scholarly material from around the world such as journal articles, conference papers, theses and books across all subject areas. It is very easy to use and has an advanced search option which allows you to specify particular authors, journals or date ranges when searching. What’s more if you are searching from on campus or are logged into the eLibrary you will be able to access full text articles directly from the search results.
However, Google Scholar does have a few weaknesses including its tendency to search primarily for information from the medical, scientific and technical subject areas, and the fact that it does not reveal its sources.
So, in order to carry out a comprehensive search of the literature it is best not to just rely on this source but to search other University hosted databases such as Medline, Cinahl, or the Health Management Information Consortium database (HMIC).

Wikipedia is a great place to start looking for information around a topic area. However, you do need to exercise some degree of caution when using Wikipedia as its content can be contributed, or changed by anyone at any time meaning that the information contained within it might not be accurate, comprehensive or impartial.
So, when using Wikipedia it is always a good idea to both corroborate any information you find from an alternative authoritative source, and follow up some of its article references to check that they do support what is being claimed.

Why do I have to write a search stratergy?

Having a good search strategy will increase the chances of you finding relevant and high quality information by making you focus on the relevance and non-relevance of specific terms in relation to what you are looking for., It will also save you time by not having to duplicate your efforts when re-running searches on different databases.

What is the best way of identifying synonyms or keywords?

The best way to identify synonyms or keywords is to try and think of alternative vocabulary or spellings that can be used to describe your topic.
For example to describe “GPs” you might use; GP, general practitioners, doctors, physicians, family practitioners etc.

What are Boolean operators?

Databases allow you to limit your search or make it more specific by using words like "AND," "OR," and "NOT." These words are known as boolean operators because of their origin as terms in logic. They are named after the 19th century mathematician George Boole.

How do I use the Boolean operators in my search?

You will use the word “OR” when you want to combine words or phrases which have the same or similar meaning.

For example; rationing OR resource allocation OR decision making

You will use the word “AND” to combine words of different meanings.

For example (rationing OR resource allocation) AND public opinion

You will use the word “NOT” if you want to exclude a term from your search.

For example; rationing NOT United States will exclude US based material.

What is the difference between a 'MESH' or 'subject' heading and a keyword?

A 'subject heading' can sometimes be referred to as either a 'descriptor' or 'MESH' heading (Medical Subject Heading). It is the name given to a set of controlled vocabulary, derived from the databases’ own thesaurus of terms, which are used to describe terms within an article or document.

A “keyword” is a word or phrase used by us or an author to describe a topic.

What is truncation and should I be using it?

Truncation is a symbol (usually * or $) which can be put on the root or end of a word in order to try and capture all the different word endings.
For example a search on primary$ would find primary, primary care, primary care trust, primary health care etc.

I cannot find very many results, what am I doing wrong?

  • Try using a thesaurus or dictionary to find more keywords, synonyms or alternative vocabulary.
  • Try using different spellings such as 'organisation' or 'organization'.
  • It might be that you have been too prescriptive in your searching and need to broaden out your search terms slightly in order to find relevant articles.
  • It might also be the case that not a lot has been written in your subject area so there is not much to find!   Your tutor might be able to advise you here.

I am getting far too many results, what am I doing wrong?

In this case you really need to focus your search. For example, ask yourself:

  • Can you make your search more focused by adding additional keywords or subject headings?
  • Can you limit your search by date, country, publication type or gender?
  • Can you identify any recurrent non-relevant terms which you can take out of your searching by using the Boolean operator 'NOT'?

How do I apply limits to my search?

You can limit your search by publication date, for example, search back only to the last 5 years, journal articles, not books / reports

Also language, for example, only retrieve articles written in English.

Also study design, for example, search only for review articles or randomised controlled trials.

Should I use referencing software?

Reference Manager, RefWorks and Endnote are software packages which enable you to create searchable databases of references, add references manually or import references from bibliographic databases such as Web of Science, Medline, etc, create bibliographies and reference lists, compliant with most word processing facilities.

The advantages of using Reference Manager or Endnote are that it allows you to:

  • manage your references as part of the research process, develop your own database of references, easily search and sort your references, index your own collection of books and papers, easily produce reference lists for publication in a wide choice of styles
  • share your reference databases with colleagues via a network.

The University has more information regarding referencing software

Can you help me with my search?

Contact us to book a mutually convenient time to come in. 

Attend a session from home via the Virtual Library Clinic

Can I get the full text from my results list?

Your results list will only include the reference NOT the full text.

If you have accessed the database via a University of Birmingham database you often see the ‘Find it at Bham' button which gives you a link to the full text that the university subscribes to.

Some databases may include direct link to reports or articles available free online.

For more information on finding the full text of journal articles see your individual user group page.

Where can I find some additional help?

We provide training sessions on literature searching. Contact us to book at time to come in.

Give us a ring anytime if you get stuck.

Attend a training session from home via the Virtual Library Clinic

Have a look at our collection of Literature searching resources.

Consult the Literature searching pages of Canvas or Blackboard.

You can look in the Help sections of the database you are in.