Searching strategies

Citation tracking
Scanning the papers that have cited a particular paper. Google scholar allows you to search within the citations of a given paper. This is scanning forward in time from the publication of the initial paper you have chosen.

Citation pearl growing
You begin with a seed paper, one that is very close to the research focus you have. It will contain useful key words and phrases, related references, perhaps useful models of theories that are in use in the research. The authors of the paper can also be tracked for related work.

Snowballing
This is the opposite of citation tracking. Here you look at the references in a paper and chase those that look useful for your research focus.

Key names in the field
As you become familiar with a field you should notice that some authors will be cited frequently. You need to be clear why they are being cited but if the citations are positive and there are many of them, the author clearly is influential in the field.

Gray literature
These are publications that have not been refereed. They might be reports, blog posts, even twitter posts. Gray literature can not only provide useful analysis but also point to research that you may not have uncovered via key term searching.

There is a useful account of the use of the full range of search strategies in: Diana, P., Anthea, S., Christopher, C., Andrew, B., & Ruth, W. (2010). Literature searching for social science systematic reviews: consideration of a range of search techniques. Health Information & Libraries Journal, 27(2), 114-122. doi:10.1111/j.1471-1842.2009.00863.x

Exhaustive versus purposive searching
Recall the influence of health related reviews on the advice about how to search. If you were undertaking a review for predictive purposes, that is to make a clear statement about the outcomes of a particular intervention, then leaving out one study might have serious implications for the meta-analysis you conduct. However, if you are interested in explanation then it won't be necessary to find every paper. You want to be sure that all of the concepts germane to your review are present in the sample of papers you work with. You are after conceptual saturation, that is you have missed a key idea, concept or theme related to your question1
.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 License