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Systematic literature reviews for education and social sciences

A guide to conducting a systematic literature review in the Education discipline

Search strategies

Example search strategy

This page will take you through the steps to conducting successful systematic searches. While the Library catalogue and the databases available all work a little differently, the basic set up of your research strategy will remain the same. Similarly, the refinements available on each database will be differently titled but do the same thing. For example the terms; Topic, Keyword and Subject are used interchangeably; these terms all refer to descriptors applied to the literature supplied by the database.  The example search has been developed using Library Catalogue Search on the library home page. 

Beginning teacher induction practice. Examine  the methods and practices used during the induction process to assist teacher retention

1. Break the question down in key parts

Key parts here are

  • beginner teachers
  • induction
  • retention.

2. Work out potential synonyms:

  • beginner teachers - early career teacher - new graduate teacher
  • induction 
  • retention - staying - continued employment

3. Experiment with partial searches - look at the key components of the search individually.

E.g. search for:

  • 'beginner teachers' OR 'early career teachers'
  • ('beginner teachersOR 'early career teachers') AND induction
  • ('beginner teachers' OR 'early career teachers') AND (retention OR "continuing employment" OR staying)

These searches will show you how much information is available on the topics.

4. Then using all the sections put together your search string:

('beginner teachersOR 'early career teachers') AND induction AND (retention OR continuing employment OR staying)

5. Then run the search. Once we get our first set of results we can then start refining them using the available database tools. Depending on the database the most common refinements are;

  • date range
  • discipline area
  • subject area.

We limit by date to locate the most recent resources - in academic terms 'recent' is the last five years of publications. Where you have abundant resources limit again to the last three years. Should you find that there are not enough relevant papers, extend your results to the last 7 years. If you are still not finding enough relevant papers, it is time to adjust your search strategy. 

Refinement types

Discipline area :Discipline area refinement is not available in every database. 

Discipline are refinement is a very useful mechanism to ensure that your research is on track. Refinement by discipline area will ensure your results all fit under the umbrella of the discipline, this is very useful where your results have a high level of cross over with other subject areas, for example special education where results will contain articles in education, psychology and social sciences. 

Subject area

Subject area refinement will help you narrow to papers where the subject area has been defined by the database or Author of the paper. Subject area refinements can help you narrow your results to very specific areas of the research, by joining several subject terms together you can make sure that all the papers returned will be on your desired topic.