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Literature Searching

Plan Your Search

As you begin, your search should consider:

  • Your research topic/question.

  • Break down your topic into key concepts or categories to formulate a clear clinical question.The PICO process will help enable you to do this.


The clinical question needs to identify:

Patient or population we intend to study

Intervention or treatment we plan to use

Comparison of one intervention to another

Outcome we anticipate

For further information on PICO please click here.

Search Strategy Checklist

Once you have your research question you can  create a range of search terms:

  • Synonyms, e.g.. aged; elderly

  • Acronyms, e.g. UTI

  • Differences in terminology across national boundaries, e.g. pediatrics/paediatrics.

  • Differences in spelling

  • Old/New terminology

  • Brand & generic names 

  • Law & medical terminology

Also consider any limitations in your search:

  • Study type

  • Age range

  • Publication date

  • language...etc.

Search the Databases

You can search the databases through the NHS Library and Knowledge Hub or directly on the OvidEBSCO, or ProQuest websites. 

Other core resources include:

You can use a grey literature database such as Open Grey or BASE.

Literature Searching Online e-Learning Modules

These free online modules are designed to help the healthcare workforce (clinical and non-clinical) build confidence to search published literature for articles and evidence relevant to their work, study and research. The modules are short (each taking no more than 20 minutes to complete) and may be ‘dipped into’ for reference, or completed to obtain a certificate.

Please note that you will need to register on the e-LfH website if you wish to record your activity. 

There are seven modules suitable for novice searchers and those wishing to refresh their knowledge:

Building the foundations

  • Module 1 Introduction to searching

  • Module 2 Where do I start searching?

  • Module 3 How do I start to develop a search strategy?


HEE Literature Searching Guided Video

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