Literature searching for social science systematic reviews: consideration of a range of search techniques

Health Info Libr J. 2010 Jun;27(2):114-22. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-1842.2009.00863.x.


Background: Literature for a systematic review on the student experience of e-learning is located across a range of subject areas including health, education, social science, library and information science.

Objectives: To assess the merits and shortcomings of using different search techniques in retrieval of evidence in the social science literature.

Methods: A conventional subject search was undertaken as the principal method of identifying the literature for the review. Four supplementary search methods were used including citation searching, reference list checking, contact with experts and pearl growing.

Results: The conventional subject search identified 30 of 41 included references; retrieved from 10 different databases. References were missed by this method and a further 11 references were identified via citation searching, reference list checking and contact with experts. Pearl growing was suspended as the nominated pearls were dispersed across numerous databases, with no single database indexing more than four pearls.

Conclusions: Searching within the social sciences literature requires careful consideration. Conventional subject searching identified the majority of references, but additional search techniques were essential and located further high quality references.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Information Storage and Retrieval / methods*
  • Review Literature as Topic*
  • Social Sciences*
  • United Kingdom