Stuff that occurs to me

All of my 'how to' posts are tagged here. The most popular posts are about blocking and private accounts on Twitter, also the science communication jobs list. None of the science or medical information I might post to this blog should be taken as medical advice (I'm not medically trained).

Think of this blog as a sort of nursery for my half-baked ideas hence 'stuff that occurs to me'.

Contact: @JoBrodie Email: jo DOT brodie AT gmail DOT com

Science in London: The 2018/19 scientific society talks in London blog post

Monday, 2 August 2010

Literature searches: formalising search and presentation of results

We run a number of literature searches for colleagues on a variety of topics. Personally I've used OVID Medline although I know other colleagues prefer PubMed - in OVID it's easy to tick a button to say 'include search strategy' when sending the results, I believe it's not too complicated to do so in PubMed either, or this can be copied and pasted.

We've decided to 'up our game' on the whole literature search 'thing' and document the processes more formally. As part of the new NHS accreditation process we're documenting certain processes in some detail anyway, but we'd like to be doing this even for our general enquiry service.

This will include (1) where we've searched (eg trusted locations such as Cochrane, and NHS Evidence as well as running literature searches and even considering 'grey literature'), (2) how we've searched (documenting our search strategies so that others can re-use or adapt them), and (3) any filters we've used (human, English language, review, years) and (3a) any ranking of the results.

We'll also be giving some thought to how we (4) present the results and (4a) how we seek feedback from the 'client'. Finally we need a process for (5) recording the enquiry / strategy and ensuring that we take any opportunity, either from client feedback or other great ideas that people have, to improve the processes by (6) continuing professional development.

Does anyone, particularly those working in medical health libraries, have a process in place from which we can pinch some ideas? I am suffering from blank page syndrome ;-)

Some of my thoughts below.
1. Locations to search (ie. search quality)
For grey literature I'd include things like which lets you know what's coming over the horizon.
2. Search strategies / MeSH headings / explode / focus / keywords (search quality)
3. Filtering (eg selecting human / English language / review)
3a. Ranking the results by quality of evidence (in a sense this can be preselected by choosing a database with higher evidence quality)
4 & 4a. Presenting the results to the 'client' and seeking feedback - I think the feedback side of things is very important.
5. Saving / recording the search for future use
6. Continuing professional development


  1. Nice people on mailing lists have been replying to me which is fantastically helpful (I've sent it to CHILL - Consortium of Health Libraries in London | LIS-SciTech - Library and Information Services/Systems - Science & Technology and CLIN-LIB - for clinical librarians).

    This looks quite detailed:-
    "The Literature Search Process: guidance for NHS researchers" and "The Literature Search Process appendix: guide to sources of information" both available from

  2. Are you following @laikas on Twitter? She's a medical librarian, very eHealth and Web 2.0 savvy. She's been discussing OVID, PubMed, and a lot of the issues you mention in her blog, Laika's MedLibLog.


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