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Planning your search strategy

This short workbook will help you to design and construct your research strategy.

The workbook has been designed to compliment the resources in the 'Finding the Literature' section of this guide, specifically the early sections on constructing your research strategy. 

Follow the simple steps and then you will be ready to apply your search strategy to the relevant databases! This resource isn't interactive on this page though! 

If you want to work through it, you can find a downloadable version of this workbook below:

Part 1: Thinking

Part one of this workbook focuses on thinking about your research topic and from it identifying your keywords.

Write down your research topic and identify your keywords: 

My research topic or question...

My key terms (think about PICO or SPIDER)...

Alternative Keywords:

Think about your key terms: are there any other ways of expressing these? It is crucial to use any alternative terms to ensure you are returning the maximum number of results for your research topic!

Now think about the types of resources you may need and note them down below.


Once you have done this, you’ll want to start on a literature search plan.

These might be books, journal articles, policy document, professional documents, etc. Are they valid? Up to date? From a reliable source like a database or government website? This will help you to construct your search strategy which you can then apply to your chosen databases.


Part 2 of this workbook focuses on planning and constructing a literature search plan.

Part 2: Planning

My Literature Search plan                                                                   

Now write down your main keywords and alternatives, and your search techniques. Combine main keywords with AND and alternatives with OR.

Main Keywords.

Alternative Keywords.

Search Strategy - Using Boolean (AND, OR).

Limits to the Search - i.e. Date, Language.

Once you have noted some of your ideas down, move on to the next section and begin using the specialist databases to begin researching.

As you begin to search for articles you may find that you identify other keywords and phrases to add to your search strategy. This is a good way of making your search even more relevant to your topic and also of identifying further articles. Remember, you will not only do this once, you will adapt your search strategy repeatedly before settling on your final articles to use! 

Part 3 of this workbook focuses on doing your research using the specialist databases for your subject.

Part 3: Doing

Carrying out your search

Now you have your search strategy, it's time to put it into practice. Below are some of the key specialist resources for Health and Social Care that you should use to find your literature.



 A large database of nursing and allied health journals.  


 A key medical database of journals. Choose the EBSCO interface and search Medline   and Cinahl together to save time.  

 Cochrane Library.

 Provides high quality, independent evidence on the effectiveness of health care interventions. Contains the results of clinical trials and systematic reviews.  


 Provides access to journal articles in psychology and mental health. 

 Social Care Online. 

 Social Care Online is the UK's largest database of information and research on all aspects of social care and social work 

 Sport Discus. 

 A comprehensive, bibliographic database covering sport, and related disciplines.  


 Provides access to education literature and resources. 

 Business Source Premier. 

 Business database useful for Healthcare Management. 


More resources can be found on the Journal tab of the Health subject guide below:

But before you begin, take a look at the box below!

You’ll need to track how you find your research and these hints and tips will help you to save time and to make sure you can find the literature you have found again.

Keeping a record of your research

It's really important when you begin your research to keep a record of where you found it.

After all, you may want to revisit it and if you don't know where you got it from, this will be difficult to do! Also, your tutors and peers may want to find your resource, too. Keeping a record of your search strategies is helpful, not only for this, but as evidence that your academic work is developed using good quality resources.

You may also need to replicate your research strategy as part of your assignment. Your assessment brief will give you more information about how to present this, if necessary. The best way to keep a record is to create a table where you can logically map your research strategy.


Here is an example of how your table could look:

Database Keywords/Phrases Alternative Keywords/Database Headings Limits or filters (eg Date, Language, Peer Review) Number of results Notes/Reflections
Medline anxiety AND fast heartbeat 3 try other key terms
(anxiety OR worry OR panic) AND (fast heartbeat OR tachycardia) [tachycardia - database heading]




You may also need to produce a PRISMA flowchart. This table detailing your research strategy and results will help you to do this. The following section contains information on how to produce a PRISMA flowchart if you are required to do this. Please check your assessment guide to see if this is a requirement of the module.