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ACAP Library Pathfinder: Systematic Searching for a Review

This guide provides a methodology for planning and creating a multi-database search strategy for students who are writing a review.

Scoping & Preliminary Searches

Scoping Search

Conduct a scoping search in one or two significant databases relevant to the topics identified in your research question. ACAP students might also want to use ACAP MultiSearch (with Expand My Results selected). 

A scoping search is a set of simple but targeted searches intended to identify:

  • Key authors
  • The availability of existing literature
  • Searchable fields such as title, abstract, and keyword or subject headings to identify relevant search terms that could be used in your final search strategy
  • Citation Chaining opportunities 
  • Articles to include in your Gold Sets

A simple search in MultiSearch might look something like this: 

cyberbullying adolescents school program mental health - Limited by Peer Reviewed Journals and Expand my Results selected.

You might also want to begin employing some of the elements described in the Advanced Searching Techniques page in this guide. 

Think about using the library's Search Assistant (see this Guide Menu under Next Steps) or the useful App 2dSearch, which may help you construct a basic scoping search using synonyms and Boolean operators.  An example using either of these tools, together with advanced search filters might look like this: 

Title (cyberbullying OR "online harassment" OR trolling ) AND (adolescents OR teenagers OR students) AND ( intervention OR prevention OR program OR project OR plan OR evaluation OR effectiveness) - Expand my Results selected.

Keep track of the relevant sources you find in Search Tracker within the Key Authors and Papers tab.  These can form the beginnings of your Gold Set.

Preliminary Searches for other Reviews

Consider searching for other literature or systematic reviews which are related to your research topic. Use these to copy and adapt the search strategies they've used. As described above, use them to identify key authors, searchable fields, relevant search terms, and citation chaining opportunities.

You'll also want to check that you are not simply repeating a research topic from other recent reviews.

To find other reviews, add the following terms to an Advanced Search: "literature review" OR "scoping review" OR "systematic review" OR "meta-analysis" OR "random* controlled trial" OR cohort. Or use the Refine Results/Limiters menus within databases to filter the search by Methodology. For example:

Title contains (cyberbullying OR "online harassment" OR trolling ) AND (adolescents OR teenagers OR students) AND ( intervention OR prevention OR program OR project OR plan OR evaluation OR effective*) AND Any field contains ("literature review" OR "scoping review" OR "systematic review" OR "meta-analysis") - with Expand my Results selected.

Creating Gold Sets

Gold sets are lists of articles (and possibly other sources) that you've found throughout the search process.  Your sets may include:

  • Key papers recommended by others (other researchers or supervisors)
  • References used in similar reviews (Citation Chaining)
  • Results of scoping or preliminary searches
  • Citations found while literature mapping (see below)
  • Results from your main search strategy. You can add items to your Gold Sets throughout the search process, don't just limit them to results from preliminary or scoping searches. 

Gold Sets help researchers gauge the sensitivity (ability to identify relevant studies) and specificity (ability to exclude irrelevant studies) of their search strategies. By comparing the results obtained with the Gold Set, researchers can measure the recall and precision of their search methods. This evaluation aids in refining the search strategy and improving the overall quality of the systematic or literature review.

The Test and Optimise Searches page in this guide describes this process in detail.  

Gold Set articles will also help inform your search criteria and search terms. Pay close attention to the searchable fields in each article such as title, abstract, and keyword or subject heading metadata. You can then use this data to use in the main search strategy. 

Other review articles listed in your Gold Set can also be used to extract ideas for your search strategy as they will often contain a section which details the search strategy used by the authors. 

Mapping with Apps & AI

There are a confusing array of tools available for students to help with their assessment tasks these days, including literature mapping tools and AI (artificial intelligence). 

AI can include tools such as ChatGPT, DALLE-2, CoPilot, and most recently Google Bard and have been used for generating content that might contribute to assessed work. Whilst powerful and easy to use, they must be used with caution as they can provide misleading or incorrect information, reduce the need for critical engagement, and can even make up well formatted but fictitious citations. 

On the other hand literature mapping tools, such as Connected Papers, Inciteful and Litmaps are very helpful for quickly identifying similar papers with just one key or 'Seed paper” (a relevant paper). They can also help detect seminal papers as well as review papers.