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Responsible Literature Searches

Supplement to session on responsible searching for the course on Responsible Conduct of Research.

Responsible Searching

Locate primary literature from peer-reviewed journals and critically evaluate the information to answer your research or clinical question. Performing a comprehensive, systematic literature search as well as proper documentation is essential.

Checklist for responsible literature searching:

A quality literature search requires a systematic and comprehensive search of the literature.

Search Preparation

  1. Identify key concepts for your search.
  2. Choose databases to search and familiarize yourself with structure, function, and limitations of each.
  3. Choose controlled vocabulary, if available, as well as key words.

Guidelines for Searching

  1. Search appropriate databases. It may be necessary to search several major databases to complete a responsible search.
  2. Search each subject term individually, then combine with Boolean operators. (AND, OR, NOT)
  3. Create search queries using relevant vocabulary
  4. Use appropriate search limits or filters
  5. Use primary sources, especially peer-reviewed materials
  6. Use secondary sources, including unpublished materials

Appraisal and Documentation

  1. Review results, appraise for quality and relevance. Eliminate those that do not meet your criteria.
  2. Check for errata or retraction of publication
  3. Document the resources consulted, search strategies and search questions
  4. Document findings, important for proper attribution. 

Type of Source Material

Primary Secondary Tertiary Gray Literature
Types of Source Material
Original source material, not previously published.

Materials that evaluate primary sources

Sources that review secondary sources, may overlap with Secondary Published outside of usual publication routes
Journals, primarily peer-reviewed Books Almanacs Bulletins
Dissertations Directories Bibliographies Committee Reports
Meeting Abstracts Encyclopedias Directories Government Documents
Patents Journals, especially review articles Encyclopedias Conference Abstracts


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