Today’s post is… a video!
In the video below, I’m demonstrating how to do an efficient literature search in a bibliographic database.
As an example, I’m using BioMed Central‘s database. You have to create an account if you want to access to the Advanced and Boolean search options, but it’s free and quick.
I chose this example because:
- It’s open access and free of use;
- It’s quite representative of how many other databases work.
Some databases have an easier way to do what I’m demonstrating (you just have to click dropdown menu boxes and buttons instead of writing everything by hand).
But many many other databases have this kind of unfriendly “blank boxes” where you have to type in your search equation yourself, so I thought it might be a good idea to demystify it in passing…
So, without further ado, here is the video.
If you can’t watch it right now, here is the gist of it.
1. Decompose your topic
Your topic is made of several different concepts. Identify each of them.
Example: “The transmission of Ebola”
Concept 1: Ebola
Concept 2: transmission
The more complicated your topic, the more concepts you will have.
2. Find synonyms
Try and find as many different keywords as possible that you could use for each of your concepts.
To learn more about keywords, check out this article.
Concept 1: Ebola, Ebola Virus Disease, EVD
Concept 2: transmission, infection, infectiousness
3. Do one search per concept
You’re trying to get as many results as possible!
Do one search for each of your concepts, such as below:
Search #1: ebola OR EVD
Search #2: transmis* OR infect*
4. Link your searches
Now, you want all of your different concepts to come together: you want to find documents that are about all of them at once.
The way you’re doing this will vary depending on the database you’re using.
Sometimes, you can directly click each search plus another button to link them.
Sometimes, you have to rewrite everything by hand to combine your previous searches in a more complex equation.
In BioMed Central, it’s a little mix of the two, as you can write directly: “#1 AND #2”.
If written out completely, my example would give:
(ebola OR EVD) AND (transmis* OR infect*)
This should narrow your search to documents directly about your topic.
5. Limit your results
How many results did you get?
If you still have a lot (like I did), then you need to narrow your search a little further.
To do that, you can:
In my example, I decided that, since ebola was my main focus, I only wanted articles that had “ebola” (or “EVD”) in their title.
Then, I looked at the limiters offered by BioMed Central (which are very limited…) and decided to limit by year.
6. Save your search to go back to it later
Most databases allow you to open a free account with them to save your searches.
It’s so practical.
For example, you can re-run searches later to finish looking through your results.
If your time is limited, you can for example decide to look through the results for 2015 today, but keep 2014 for tomorrow, and look at 2013 and beyond next week… If your database offer better, more relevant limiters (such as Subjects, or Classification), you can use those instead to divide your work.
That’s an efficient way to make sure that you’re not looking twice at the same results… But don’t forget to write everything down!
What did you think of this technique? Have you been searching databases differently? Tell me about it in the comments!