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Nursing and Midwifery

Why you need to use good quality literature

It's really important in Nursing and Midwifery to be able to find good quality, up-to-date literature and information, because you need to base your work on reliable evidence that it is suitable for your needs. Good research skills are therefore crucial in both your academic studies and professional practice. The resources in this section will help you to develop these skills.

You can find the relevant databases in the Journals and Databases tab. You may also need to use evidence-based research resources as part of your work - you can find these in the Evidence-Based Practice Resources tab.

Introductory resources on basic literature searching skills

How to Search

Library: How to Search

How to Search is a resource produced by the library which aims to give students a general introduction to the process of searching for evidence. It covers the different stages of the process of searching for information, including:

  • identifying the information you need
  • deciding where to search
  • using search techniques to construct an effective search
  • evaluating the sources you find
  • understanding the basics of referencing

The resource includes videos, interactive activities, and downloadable documents to support your independent learning. How to Search is not subject-specific, but it is particularly useful if you are new to literature searching or would like a refresher of the basics.

Research Reading List

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 HWLS: Research and Study Skills for Nursing, Allied Health Professions and Social Work reading list. All of the books on this list are available from Hallam Library and all are available in online formats. It contains resources about research methods, evidence-based practice, conducting a literature review, and study skills. 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!

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.

Citation searching / pearl growing

  • When you have found at least one article that is very relevant to your research, you can use Citation Searching, which is where you use a source to find other sources that are linked to it.
  • This technique is also known as 'Pearl Growing' or 'Snowballing', and it can be particularly useful if you are struggling to find much research on your topic.
  • You can look for sources that were referenced in your original article, sources that cited your original article, and sources by the same author.
  • The video below shows you how to apply this technique using one of the multi-disciplinary databases, Scopus.
  • You can also Web of Science or Google Scholar for citation searching in a similar way.

Database Searching Demo

As you progress through your studies, you will need to think about becoming more systematic and comprehensive in your searching of the resources. You'll 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. The video below demonstrates how to apply your search strategy to a specific database (Medline) and then refine your search using the filters within the database

Database Subject Headings

  • Some databases have a set of their own preferred terms for key concepts. This set of preferred terms is known as subject headings or a thesaurus.   
  • In MEDLINE, the subject headings are called MeSH (Medical Subject Headings). In CINAHL, they are called CINAHL Subject Headings.
  • Items in the database are labelled with these terms according to the topics they discuss.
  • It is a good idea to check your keywords and phrases against the database headings to make sure you haven't missed out on using a preferred term.
  • The short video below shows you how to do use subject headings in CINAHL, but the process is the same in MEDLINE.

More advanced guide to searching for literature reviews

To build on your learning from the resources above, here is a link to a more detailed guide about how to find information for science or health based literature reviews.

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. Divided into 12 steps, the guide will help you get the most out of doing your literature review, whether that is a stand-alone piece of work, or 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. 

The guide will help you:

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

Other Types of Resource - Grey Literature

As well as books and articles, 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'. The term 'grey literature' refers to resources which are not from an academic publication or a commercial source, such as policy documents, government reports, internal guidance, NICE guidelines, etc.

Unlike academic journals in databases, grey literature is not generally brought together in one consistent place. However, there are lots of sources of grey literature that you can use:

  • Databases such as Web of Science, SCOPUS and Proquest can be good starting points for grey literature.
  • National Grey Literature Collection (funded by Health Education England) holds the hard copy grey literature collection of the former North Grey Literature Service. It is collecting an increasing range of electronic Grey Literature. The collection is delivered by Stockport Foundation NHS Trust. Search the National Grey Literature Collection here.
  • If you are aware of a relevant organisation in the field, such as a professional body or a government department, looking on the website of that organisation can be a useful part of your search for grey literature.
  • The organisations linked in the Professional Bodies tab and the Reports and Statistics tab may be valuable sources of grey literature.
  • You can also use Google when you are looking for sources other than academic articles and books. However, information from Google searches is not necessarily regulated, so it is particularly important to evaluate these sources effectively.

Keeping a record of your search

Why should I keep a record of my search?

  • You may want to revisit a useful search and this will be difficult if you can't remember which keywords, filters, and databases you used. 
  • Recording your searches also helps you develop your search strategy, so you can keep track of which keywords, filters, and databases have been useful in finding an appropriate number of relevant resources and which haven't. Having a record means you won't end up repeating the same unsuccessful search each time.
  • If you ask a librarian for support with your literature searching, they will be able to advise you more quickly and effectively if you can easily show them what you've tried so far.
  • You may also need to report your research strategy as part of your assignment to show that you've searched in an effective way. Your assessment brief will give you more information about how to present this, if necessary. If you are asked to create a PRISMA diagram, you can use the resources below, and speak to your tutor/ supervisor if you need further help.

Search record table

A simple and effective way to keep a record of your search strategy is to create a table where you can include key information about each of the searches you run. Here is an example of how your table might look:

Database Keywords/Phrases Alternative Keywords/Database Headings Limits / filters  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]




PRISMA Flow Diagram

You may be asked to create a PRISMA Flow Diagram to show where you have found your evidence (most likely only for your final research project). Keeping accurate records of your searches, as described above, is an important step in doing this. If you are unsure whether you need to create a PRISMA diagram, check with your tutor.

These links from the creators of PRISMA guide you through creating your PRISMA Flow Diagram:

Further information on PRISMA

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, such as the Hawker method:

  • Hawker, S., Payne, S., Kerr, C., Hardey, M., & Powell, J. (2002). Appraising the Evidence: Reviewing Disparate Data Systematically. Qualitative Health Research12(9), 1284–1299. - Find in the library collection 

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: 

* Reference the specific checklist you have used.

Planning your research project

Systematic Reviews

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.

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