Searching the literature
Doing a literature review you’d think would be simple – read a paper, write something about it and move on. but first you have to find the relevant literature, you know – PROMPT -
Experience and knowing where to look helps because you know which databases to search, which journals to read and which authors to check, and the Literature Review HQ blog from a PhD student who’s gone through it helps remind you of the resources and the pain.
But recently, agreeing to write a paper with a colleague, I committed myself to review literature in a field that was not in any of my PhD research areas, so I had no experience. First with my limited knowledge, I checked papers of people who’d written in that area to see what journals they’d used, including in that check what my colleague had cited. Then I drew up a list of possible journals and checked the university library for possibly suitable databases to use. I kept a table of what databases I’d searched, what search terms I’d used, how many hits I’d got, and comments on the worth of these hits. My PhD training on systematic reviewing helped.
Searching for papers and finding something useful is so empowering. Six years ago I couldn’t do this and found it very difficult to put forward a research proposal to get on the PhD programme. Now I can follow up newspaper articles to find and read the original source, to form my own take on it. Try it – find the sources for these articles:
- Cochrane Summary of Findings table for adjuvant radiotherapy after surgery for cervical cancer
- Aspirin’s Role In Cancer Prevention: U.K. Studies Show Off Drug’s Abilities
And that’s just the search, -I haven’t started the review.