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How to find information for science or health based literature reviews

1 - What are the benefits of keeping up to date with literature?

Librarians and lecturers say... it is important to keep up to date with newly published information within the subject you are researching! 

But why do you think we say this?

Why do you think it is important to keep up to date with literature?
You can impress your supervisor with your knowledge in tutorials or project meetings.: 2 votes (28.57%)
You can make connections between older and new literature.: 1 votes (14.29%)
You stay up to date with information that matches your search or matches an author of interest.: 1 votes (14.29%)
You will not be suprised by newly published information.: 1 votes (14.29%)
Your subject knowledge needs to keep pace with newly published information and findings after you have stopped running your searches.: 2 votes (28.57%)
Total Votes: 7

2 - Do I have to keep up to date with literature?

It is your choice but it is difficult to see why you would not want to keep up-to-date with literature in a field that you are researching!

Imagine this scenario*

Imagine if today, you fell over in the street and needed medical help. What would your reaction be if instead of an ambulance, two historical medics from a different historical period arrived to treat you?

You may be surprised by the treatment options offered as they are unlikely to be current or found in NHS clinical pathways, guidance or listed on NHS Choices. Would you want to be treated by historical medics?  We think you would not!

We keep up to date with literature to make sure:

  • our knowledge is current.
  • we are not relying on superseded information.
  • we are aware of developments in your field.
  • you maintain the continuous professional development requirement of your career.

*The inspiration for this idea comes from the wonderful BBC series - Horrible Histories - which included a recurring sketch related to historical paramedics from many historical periods treating people in modern times.

3 - Let's agree terms!

Here are a list of terms with explanations to make make sure we all know what we are refering to within this section:

Alerts and feeds automatically find out about relevant new resources which have been published within an area. 

An alert is an email that informs you when something new becomes available on an electronic resource, for example new sources on a database or new items on a website.

A feed, also called an RSS feed, Atom feed, or web feed contains updated information from a web site. You can subscribe to feeds from lots of different web sites and then use a browser or a feed reader to see any new updates from all your feeds.

A citation alert is an email from a resource that lets you know when an article you have specified has been cited by another article.

An author alert is an email from a resource that lets you know when an author you have specified has had an article included in the resource you have set the alert up in.

Many resources or online services like databases have an option to set up alerts. Journal and magazine websites will often allow you to sign up to alerts containing the contents pages of new issues. 

4 - How often do I need to do this for my literature review?

We recommend you tailor the approach to your literature review. Literature reviews can differ in how extensive and detailed they need to be. For example:

  • For a literature review that is run over a short period of time e.g. a month it may be enough to run your searches a couple of times in multuiple sources and then report on the information you find. This would work if your literature review is assignment based and bound by a short start date and assignment submission end date.


  • For a piece of work with a longer deadline, there is more opportunity for newly published information to appear within your field of research which may affect your research project. In these circumstances, it makes sense to have a method for keeping up to date with research to make sure you are not surprised by new research!

5 - What's the best approach for keeping up to date?

Before you set up alerts or sign up for a new service, we recommend you spend a few moments considering the following questions to make sure you are choosing the most relevant resource:

  • Does it fit with the way you work?
  • Does it do what you need it to do?
  • Does it have the content you need?

Each of you will have your preferred approach for keeping up to date with literature depending on how you like to work... so choose the one that works for you!

We would always recommend that you check the terms and conditions of any service that you are signing up for as this is an agreement you have made with the service you wish to use.

6 - What are my options?

You could try using any of the following resources or approaches:

  • Saved search email alerts in Library Search or a subjecy specific database like Scopus or Web of Science.
  • Weekly journal reading 
  • Specific alerts for key authors or citation alerts
  • Google Scholar alerts
  • Using email discussion lists or social media.

The above lists common approaches that can be used to keep up to date. There will be other options for keeping up to date as databases innovate and resources change and the above list is not in order of preference.

What would we do?

We would use a combination of approaches depending how extensive the literature review needs to be be and the period of time to complete the literature review. You could choose all options or the ones which you think are most useful:

  • set up a saved search alert on a resource that has the most relevant literature or the largest pool of literature. This could be Library Search or a large database like Scopus, Web of Science, Dimensions or a subject specific database like Cinhal or SciFinder.
  • set up a bookcase on Browse ejournals. You need to know which journals are relevant to your literature search and likely to include newly published articles. Using a bookcase pulls up to 16 journals together into a bookcase within BrowZine with links to the table of contents and articles.
  • possibly a citation alert to key papers or key authors... but it really does depend how in-depth your literature search needs to be!

You can find out more about Browze ejournals and how to set a Library Search alert for saved searches below. 

What else do I need to consider?

Depending on which option and resource you decide to use, you may have to register with the resource to be able to set up alerts and saved searches unique to you. For example, if you wanted to set up a saved search on a database that the Library subscribes to then you would need to use the personalised features of the resources. Personalised features like being able to set up alerts and saved searchs often require you to create an account with the specific resource. 

All resources are different and we recommend you read the information in the resource about personalised features and signing up for an account before you do sign up for the service.

We would always recommend that you check the terms and conditions of any service that you are signing up for as this is an agreement you have made with the service you wish to use.

7 - How to create saved searches in Library Search

Lets put some of this knowledge into practice!

This is a picture of a light bulb.                Activity 1: Set up a Saved Search related to your literature review in Library Search.

  • It its likely that you may need to refine your search before you set up your saved search.
  • Experiment with search terms and filters.
  • Once you are happy with the search and it is returning relevant information then save the search.
  • You can delete searches at any time.
  • You receive the results as an email once a week with items that have been added to Library Search that match your search criteria.

Take a break.

Congratulations you have completed the tenth step.

Time to take a break - maybe try some relaxation techniques.