Conducting efficient literature searches

J Psychosoc Nurs Ment Health Serv. 2009 Nov;47(11):34-41. doi: 10.3928/02793695-20090930-03.


Access to the most relevant articles with recent evidence is essential for writing peer-reviewed articles and informing clinical decision making. A clear method is needed to undertake a mental health literature review to ensure the topic is covered adequately. Choosing the right key words and search strategies and using appropriate databases are essential starting points. Drawing on different search methods to access a variety of sources ensures the most relevant articles are retrieved for a high-quality clinical literature review. Advanced searching includes the use of the medical subject headings thesaurus and other strategies to refine and focus the search for optimum sensitivity and specificity. Regardless of whether a search is basic or advanced, stages of the search procedures, such as determining key terms, databases used and the date range used within each, fields selected, dates of access, a history of search sets, and the justification for excluding data, should be documented to provide an audit trail. This article provides an overview of these search steps.

MeSH terms

  • Databases, Bibliographic*
  • Humans
  • Information Storage and Retrieval*
  • Nursing Research
  • Review Literature as Topic*