Skip to Main Content


Step 2: Develop a Search Strategy and Search for Literature

Once you have refined your research topic, it is time to begin searching for evidence to answer your research question. 


Use familiar tools like PICO, PICOT, SPIDER, etc. to break down your research question into searchable concepts. Not familiar with these? Review this page on search strategy development using PICO. 



When you have your search strategy in place, it is time to translate it into various databases. Some projects will just use one or two databases, and others may use 10! It all depends on the type of research project you are completing. 


If you are completing a class assignment or just need a simple, non-comprehensive literature review, you should:

  • Search 1-2 health sciences databases (not just Google Scholar!). This search can be accomplished well with keywords alone. 
  • Have a search strategy developed using PICO 
  • Have a few synonyms and alternative phrases outlined for your searchable concepts 


New to searching or need a refresher? Check out the guide below to get a handle on the basics, as well as advanced searching techniques, needed for searching in various databases: 


If you are completing a thesis, dissertation, systematic review, scoping review, or another type of project where a more comprehensive literature search is needed you should: 

  • Search a minimum of 5 databases and your database selection will depend on your research topic. 
  • Have a search strategy developed using PICO (or another version)
  • Have an extensive list of synonyms, alternative and related phrases outlined for your searchable concepts. Be prepared to incorporate controlled vocabulary, such as MeSH, into your search strategy
  • Have specific search limits in mind. For example, Language, Publication Date, Study Design, Publication Type, etc. 
  • Decide how you want to manage your found citations. Commonly, researchers will use a citation manager (such as EndNote, RefWorks, Mendeley, or Zotero). You may also want to consider using screening software, such as Covidence. 


Completing a comprehensive, systematic search is different than completing your standard literature review. In addition to the above list of things to do and know, before getting started with your comprehensive search, you should:

  1. Complete this online Systematic Review Searching Workshop
  2. Be familiar with your chosen methodology and have an idea of what is expected. Our "Preparing for a Comprehensive Literature Review" guide has some great how-to resources
  3. Talk to a librarian who can help lay the path for your search process. Get in touch with a health sciences librarian via email