Evidence Synthesis in the Social Sciences

This guide will give you an overview of evidence synthesis methodology and discuss relevant resources and tools.

Literature searching for evidence synthesis

Literature searching for evidence synthesis is different than doing a general literature search, since it needs to be systematic, and the researcher needs to be very transparent with the search process in order for the research to be reproducible.  Bramer, et. al., 2018* provide suggested steps for a systematic literature search:

  1. Determine a clear and focused question
  2. Describe the articles that can answer the question
  3. Decide which key concepts address the different elements of the question
  4. Decide which elements should be used for the best results
  5. Choose an appropriate database and interface to start with
  6. Document the search process in a text document
  7. Identify appropriate index terms in the thesaurus of the first database
  8. Identify synonyms in the thesaurus
  9. Add variations in search terms
  10. Use database-appropriate syntax, with parentheses, Boolean operators, and field codes
  11. Optimize the search
  12. Evaluate the initial results
  13. Check for errors
  14. Translate to other databases
  15. Test and reiterate

In addition to these suggestions from Bramer, et. al. the Libraries often recommends that researchers have 'gold standard' articles (articles that are definitely relevant to your search) so you can check that your searches in each database are including all of these articles in your search results (otherwise your search is too narrow).  Researchers might also want to consider US/UK spellings, plurals/singulars for search terms, abbreviations, etc.

*Bramer WM, de Jonge GB, Rethlefsen ML, Mast F, Kleijnen J. A systematic approach to searching: an efficient and complete method to develop literature searches. J Med Libr Assoc. 2018 Oct;106(4):531-541. doi: 10.5195/jmla.2018.283. Epub 2018 Oct 1. PMID: 30271302; PMCID: PMC6148622.

Keywords and Index Terms

It's important to remember that keywords and index terms are not the same things, and you'll want to consider both in your search strategy.  You'll also want to remember that index terms are particular to a specific database.

Keywords are often helpful in broadening your search and can be searched for in everything from article titles and abstracts to full text searching.

Index terms (or subject terms) are more likely to focus your search as they are particular terms applied to an article by an indexer.

Search strategy videos from Yale Medical Library

Resources on developing search strategies

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