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About this section - why you need to use good quality literature

It's really important in the Health and Social Care field to find good quality, up to date literature and evidence!

As it's so important to find the best evidence and literature for your topic, you will need to develop good research skills to enable you to do this. The resources in this section will help you to develop these skills: from constructing a 'comprehensive' research strategy, applying it to the different databases to find your research articles, to evaluating and using it in your work. 

Also in this section is:

  • information and help on topics such as understanding research methodology
  • critical appraisal tools
  • glossaries of terms
  • keeping a record of your research.

You can also find help and support for searching for the evidence and academic writing. Follow the links on the left hand side to navigate to each section.

Happy hunting!

Subject Librarian Support

Literature searching is a key skill for students on Health courses.

We know it can be daunting to remember all of the information you are told in the literature searching sessions and that you may need a little extra help.

Getting Started - The Basics

If you are new to researching, particularly in Health and Social Care, you may question why you need to engage so much with research.

Well, it's important to keep up to date, both academically and professionally, and the best way to do that is to read the current research around your topic, area of interest or working environment!

This section begins with the basics of conducting research in the Health and Social Care fields. Our resource, 'How To Search', is a good place to begin, as it is easy to follow and has a lot of information about how to start out on your research journey:

This interactive online resource can help you to find and use information for your academic work. Here you will find advice from the library for new students on how to find the right resources for your course work at university. You will also find links to advice from other services in the university to help you work and study. There are videos and interactive quizzes to help you check your understanding along the way.

To support you at all the stages of your research, we have a handy reading list of titles covering researching in this field, compiled by the Subject Librarians who support Heath Wellbeing and Life Sciences.

All of the books are available from Hallam Library and all are available in online formats. Most of these titles begin at the basics so it's a good idea to get yourself into a couple of them before you start!

There are also some useful videos introducing you to some of the key databases in this link:

Beyond the basics - Developing your research skills

'How to search' is a good introduction to how to search but for students on health and social care courses you need to have more in-depth skills.

The resources in this section focus specifically on the skills you need to search for evidence comprehensively and effectively. These skills are transferable across all the databases you will need to use.

Remember, you should search across a range of databases relevant to your research topic, to ensure you are capturing all of the available evidence and literature.

The videos in this box will help you to develop the skills you need in finding and evaluating your evidence.

  • The search process - this tab takes you through the process of searching for literature, from identifying your keywords, to applying the techniques you need to use to a database search.
  • PICO and SPIDER - this tab identifies two techniques you may find helpful in unpicking your topic to form your search strategy.
  • Evaluating - this tab looks at how to assess the suitability of the sources you find and how to read academic articles effectively.


Planning your Search Strategy Workbook.

To compliment these resources, you can use our handy workbook to help you work through constructing your research strategy. The workbook is called Planning Your Search Strategy and is available to download here: Planning your Search Strategy Workbook.


Introductory text to researching in Health and Social Care.

The book below (available through the library as an eBook and in print) provides a step-by-step guide simplifies the process of reviewing published literature, provides a guide to searching, appraising and comparing literature, and offers practical tips on writing up.

  • Why do a literature review?
  • What literature is relevant?
  • How do I appraise my findings?
  • How do I present my literature review?

The search process

These really short videos talk you through the process of constructing a literature search. Beginning with the theory of why you need to use good quality academic resources and the process of searching for literature and evidence, they move through identifying key concepts - which form the basis of your key words and phrases - and onto the resources you need to use to find literature and evidence to support your work.

The theory
Identifying concepts. 
The resources.

Searching with PICO or SPIDER.

PICO and SPIDER are methodologies you can use to help you identify your research articles. The one you use depend on the type of research you are looking for. The below articles outline how to use two of the most popular research methodologies for Health research - PICO and SPIDER. You may be asked to use them to evidence your research strategy.

Evaluating the evidence.

Once you have found your evidence to support your literature review, you will need to evaluate what you have found. Here are some useful resources to help you do that:


How to read an academic paper.

This short video by TedEd talks you through some tips on how to make sense of the information you are reading: how to read an academic paper. This is a very specific skill you need to develop, to be able to make the best use of the information you find in an academic paper.


How to read a scientific paper.

This short infographic briefly explains how to read a scientific paper: how to read a scientific paper.

Comprehensive and systematic literature searching

You've become confident with the basics of constructing a literature search - congratulations!

Now you need to think about becoming more systematic and comprehensive in your searching of the resources. You'll find that you now need to begin refining your research to suit your own needs, and there are some useful tools within the databases to help you do this.

This video demonstrates how to apply your search strategy to a specific database (Medline) and then refine your search using the filters within the database:

Remember! You can use these techniques in any of the specialist databases you need to use, and that these techniques are also transferable into any professional resources you need to use, too.

Using your own key terms, words and phrases is a good start to comprehensive literature searching, but databases are also programmed with their own preferred terms. These appear in the database thesaurus, and it is a good idea to check your keywords and phrases against the database headings. This short video shows you how to do this:

Another useful technique to use is Incremental and Citation Searching. More commonly known as 'Pearl Growing' or 'Snowballing' because you are using one piece of research as a building block to find other research related to, or attached to, that piece. It can be particularly useful if you are struggling to find research on your topic. This video shows you how to apply this technique using one of the multi-disciplinary databases, Scopus:

This technique can also be used in Google Scholar ( Google Scholar is a final resort to ensure you have collected all the relevant literature for your topic!

Subject Librarian Support

Comprehensive guide to finding the literature for science and health subjects

This guide takes you through a step-by-step process of finding and selecting the evidence for your literature review in the science and health subjects.

The guide will help you:

  • find information
  • apply a structured approach to research
  • help minimise missing key papers
  • save time!

Divided into 12 steps, this guide will help you get the most out of doing your literature review, whether that is a stand-alone piece of work, as part of a wider project that involves writing a literature review as part of the process.

You can either follow the guide from beginning to end, or select the part of the process you want to know more about or upskill in. 

Grey literature

In the course of your studies, you may need to find other types of literature to help with your discussion or argument.

These resources are commonly referred to as 'grey literature' and can be found in a number of places. The term 'grey literature' normally refers to any resource which is not an academic publication, or from a commercial source.

For example, this could be policy documents, government reports, internal guidance, NICE guidelines, etc. This article from the National Institutes of Health gives more detail about why it is useful to include grey literature in your research:

Searching for grey literature can be very hard and frustrating as it is not generally brought together in one consistent place, such as with academic literature in the databases. It very much depends on the 'type' of grey literature you will need to find. For example, if you were doing a service improvement, you may want to find internal documents, which will not be publicly available. So you would need to work out how best to find these documents.

There is some useful information on the Health Education England (HEE) website about searching for grey literature here: 

Here are some other sources of grey literature that you can use:


  • National Grey Literature Collection has moved to the King's Fund. Currently under development (Jan 24). If you are searching for any content previously on the site, contact the Kings Fund library on


  • World Health Organization - providing leadership on global health matters, shaping the health research agenda, setting norms and standards, articulating evidence-based policy options, providing technical support to countries and monitoring and assessing health trends.

You can also use your professional body sites for your profession-specific evidence. And of course, there is also Google for anything that isn't academic articles!

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.


PRISMA stands for the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses.

This is the preferred way to report how you have identified the appropriate studies to use in your work. It is used by experts to report on interventions in systematic reviews and meta-analyses. More information on how it is used can be found here:

You may need to produce a PRISMA flowchart and this will be detailed in your module assessment instructions. This section provides an overview of PRISMA, and links to the resources you will need to help you produce the flow diagram.

Please note: you are most likely to be asked to produce a PRISMA flow chart if you are doing a systematic literature review as your final year project.

Before you begin, it may be useful to do a little reading around PRISMA and why it is an important part of the research process.

The Library has lots of books on how to do different types of review, that include information on how to produce a PRISMA with examples. Here is a list of ones we think would be most useful:

This article on reporting PRISMA may also be useful to read before you begin: 

PRISMA have a dedicated website to helping you to produce a flowchart.

The links in this section will take you to the most up to date information on PRISMA. There is also an app that can help you to produce your PRISMA flowchart.

We also have books in the Library that talk about PRISMA and offer constructive help and examples of how to create the flowchart.

There is also PRISMA guidance for different types or aspects of systematic reviews. So, for example, if you are doing a scoping review, check this link for the guidance on how to report this:

Understanding Research Methods

Research methods are the processes, techniques or strategies used to find, analyse and collate data or evidence to answer a research question or assignment.

Research methods allow you to find new evidence or information to better understand a particular topic or theme. 

There are lots of different research methods used in Health and Social Care research. The tabs in this box provide some guidance and explanation of the different research methods you may encounter in your reading, or be asked to use in your academic work.

To get you started, we have collated a reading list of some useful texts for researching in Nursing, Health & Social Care. 

These texts introduce you to:

  • research methods in Health and Social Care
  • conducting good quality research
  • ethics
  • effective research techniques 
  • interpreting your findings.  

In the 'Exploring Research Methods' tab are a couple of really good resources covering all aspects of research methods in Health and Social Care. There are also a couple of useful glossaries of terms used in Healthcare research that are a good introduction to some of the terminology you will hear and read about.

These books are a good starting point for introductions to research methods. It might be useful to read some of them before you begin!

Exploring Research Methods

The resources in this tab will help you investigate the research methods you encounter, either in your reading or your academic work. You can use them as you are reading your research findings, or look at some of the more overarching resources before you begin your research journey!


SAGE Research Methods: Medicine & Health collections cover primary clinical and epidemiological research, both interventional and observational, as well as systematic review and meta-analysis. Examples of studies are drawn from across all major medical specialties, as well as public health, nursing, dentistry, health policy, and services research. Really good for learning about the pros and cons of specific types of research!

Also included is the methods map, which allows you to read definitions of key terminology, and discover content relevant to your research project:


BMJ Best Practice: Learn Evidence Based Research 

These articles are intended to introduce the key methods of Evidence Based Medicine (EBM) such as clarifying a clinical question, designing a search and appraising, synthesising and assessing quality of the evidence.

Glossary of Research Terms

Sometimes we are faced with a lot of jargon when we are investigating research methods! These resources will help you understand the glossary of terms that are used with research methods and are all from authoritative Health and Social Care sources.


  • NICE - Glossary of Terms

    This is also a useful glossary of terms from NICE. The glossary gives brief definitions and explanations of the terms used and describes how NICE guidance is produced.


  • PubMed Publication Types. From PubMed: Publication Characteristics (Publication Types) with Scope Notes. Useful definitions of terms used with publications in PubMed, including MeSH.

Systematic Reviews

Are you really being asked to conduct a systematic review, or are you doing an extended literature review with a systematic and comprehensive search strategy?

You may be asked to do a 'systematic review', but in reality you are conducting a systematic review of the literature. There's a real difference between the two and you should always check to make sure that you are doing the right thing.

  • systematic review aims to answer a very specific research question, with strict parameters. It is normally done in a group of people with formalised roles and specified research parameters, often outlined in a protocol.
  • A systematic literature search is a review of the literature within specified databases in order to collect as much of the evidence available within those resources. You will be expected to demonstrate your search strategy in some way, and to discuss the findings of the published literature.

Before you start, you may want to investigate this article that talks about the difference between a 'systematic review' and a 'systematic literature review', which will help you to identify if yours is a full 'systematic review': 

The next section in this box provides some reading about systematic reviews.

It may be helpful to start with some of these readings, to help you find out more about conducting a systematic review before you start.

The reading list below has been created to help you find resources that discuss both systematic literature searching and systematic review methods, and may help you identify whether you are actually doing a systematic review, or a systematic literature search.

It's always worth reading some of the literature around methods you may be using to write an assignment.

The Library has lots of resources that cover systematic reviews, both the methods and search processes. We've identified a few that may be useful and included them in this reading list in the previous tab, but here we've picked out a few that are generally the most useful.

The next tab in this box provides links to information and training from Cochrane.

Cochrane is a provider of accessible, credible information to support informed decision-making has never been more important or useful for improving global health. The training resources provided by Cochrane may help you with producing your systematic review.

Cochrane produces systematic reviews of primary research in human health care and policy.

Each Cochrane Review addresses a clearly formulated question. Cochrane also produces resources to help people and teams undertaking systematic review research.

If you are doing a systematic review, you might want to take a look at these resources which will help you to undertake your systematic review.

Critical appraisal tools

Critical Appraisal

There are many different critical appraisal tools you can use. Here are a few of the most commonly used:


There are others that you can use, for instance the Hawker method below:


You may also be given guidance by your tutors on which method to use. Check your module documents or ask your tutor!


Referencing Your Critical Appraisal Tool

When citing and referencing a critical appraisal tool, use the same format as for a website. For example: 

Critical Appraisal Skills Programme. (2020).  CASP Checklist*. Retrieved from:

*reference the checklist you have used, i.e. CASP Randomised Control Trial Checklist.

Planning your research project

Academic Skills Support