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How to find information for science or health based literature reviews

1 - When can I stop searching?

That is a really good question!

Generally, a suitable time to stop searching is when you start to see the same articles or resources appear in searches you have run in multiple resources.

Our literature review has been investigating whether honey or silver is more effective for wound healing. We may have run three sets of searches in a range of sources and this is a pattern you may notice in your own searches. 

It is impossible to say that you must run a specific number of searches in a specific number of databases, journals or other resources and then you can stop searching! Each literature review will be different and each person researching needs to make that decision, but if you are unsure about when to stop searching, just ask the person that set the assignment as they are there to guide and support your academic work!

Here is a list of our three searches with sources search and characteristics of the search:

  • First set of searches: These are our initial searches, also known as scoping searches. These searches are likely to find lots of information that is new to ourselves. We may be using Library Search at this point

  • Second set of searches: We would run our second set of searches, with search refinements based on the search results from our first set of searches in a suitable source like Web of Science or CINAHL. Using multiple and subject specific databases will find new articles from a range of journals written by a range of authors. We may at this stage begin to recognise some of the authors but there may still be new researchers work appearing in our results set e.g. newly published books, conference proceedings or articles.

  • Third set of searches: These searches could include internet searches, grey literature searches, dissertations or more specialist resources.  These searches may still find additional new information but now you may begin to recognize more confidently the key researchers in this area, key papers and key journals.

Once your searches start to return fewer and fewer new resources, it may be time to pause searching as you may be at the stage to start reviewing the material you have found.


Now is the time to make you sure you have set up alerts to make sure you don't miss anything significant after you have stopped searching! We will cover this in Step 11!