Literature search and review

Going through heaps of hits in academic search engines may be discouraging, as well as skipping the very one, most useful article, perhaps appearing on page 20 of search results. How to rerank the search hits, and how to quickly find the research we need? Some time ago, I attended a workshop by PhD Breakfast Club at the University of Oslo, and I’ve learned a couple of useful tricks.

If searching with Google Scholar, use filters. GS is undoubtedly handy, and thus the preferred search engine of many of my colleagues, but it is more likely to output older and more cited articles first, even though some newer works are definitely more relevant to your search. As a result, recent publications that haven’t been cited yet can be easily overlooked. A simple solution is to remember to only display the articles published since a certain year or to sort the search output by date.

Use the same keywords in several search engines. Various scientific search engines are based on different databases and use different algorithms to match results to the keywords you use. It is useful to keep track of the keyword combinations you use and create a search methodology. This will prevent overlooking the useful works.

Try some less popular search engines. Some less known search engines may have extra functions to aid your search. One example is JANE: this search engine lets you paste article abstracts and look for related works based on large chunks of texts. You can also look for other authors from your field and for journals that are most related to your research.

Display related works. Some essential articles can be easily traced by going through the works cited by a few key articles in your review. Use this at any stage of the review, at the start to explore the topic, and at the end, to avoid skipping important works. GS has a handy functionality to display citing works.

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