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Research and Scholarly Activity Guide for Psychiatry Faculty, Residents, Fellows, and Students

Why does your literature review matter?

Your research and scholarly contributions as a clinician build on your knowledge and synthesis of prior work published in the literature. 

Learning and practicing how to efficiently review the literature to see what has been investigated and is known about your topic of interest is part of your training. It builds on your competence in searching and evaluating literature for EPA 7: Form Clinical Questions and Retrieve Evidence to Advance Patient Care.

All research proposals, presentations and publications begin with summary of the state of the literature on a topic, and identification of the gaps in knowledge that you are trying to fill. Doing a thorough literature review, particularly of the empirical evidence, enables you to leverage the expertise of others to bring your audience up to speed about what has already been done, and position your own work in relation to existing work, and more confidently talk or write about the value of your topic. 

Translating your potential topic into a searchable question is the first step to assessing the state of scholarly activity and interest in your topic. Where there is a large volume of high quality literature or a recent systematic review or clinical guideline, it may be a topic that lends itself to presenting the state of that topic to an audience such as Grand Rounds.  A question that does not yield a lot of quality literature may represent a place where your research and scholarly activities could make a major contribution. 


Timing, efficiency and thoroughness

The amount of time required for an efficient and thorough literature review varies by the topic and quality of the existing literature.  

  1. Are you set on your question, or are you willing to have your question shaped by the literature you find?
  2. How much literature is there to be reviewed? Figure out whether you want to refine by time or quality. What would be considered recent for the question? Look at the types of publications retrieved--are you focusing on the empirical evidence or able to use a broader range of research. For the most recent publications, look at the gaps in the author conclusions.  Do you also need to look at the Database listed below, as well as other sites, for studies in progress?
  3. You will probably prepare yourself by selective reading and evaluating and summarizing of many more papers than you will be able to present or share as part of your background of a presentation or publication.  If you don't feel efficient in this stage, ask for help.  You will get more efficient as you do more reading and practice in journal clubs, etc. 
  4. One hint that your review is thorough comes when you realize you aren't encountering any additional information as you review additional papers or do additional searching (saturation).  

Here are more timing aspects to consider as you work with the quality literature you find:

  1. How much time do you have between when you start searching and when you need to present/submit for publication?
  2. Give yourself time to request articles that may not be online at OHSU (free Get It For Me Service).
  3. If you review the literature well in advance, consider setting up alerts or searching again for new information a few days in advance to see if there is anything new since you performed your review.  You may not have time to incorporate it fully into your talk, but you can mention its existence. 

First Step of a Literature Review: Translating your topic into a searchable question

The first step in the literature review process is thinking about your topic and other parameters, such as purpose of the search and time you have to do this and translating the topic of your work or scholarly activity (presentation, publication) into a searchable question.

Topic, not yet translated into a searchable question

What are the most impactful social determinants of health (see CDC information below) on veterans' health?

Social determinants include things like education, income, and housing.

More searchable version of a broad question

How does adequate housing (or houselessness) impact the mental health of U.S. veterans?

Narrow topic, not yet translated into a searchable question

Do U.S. veterans who live in single-family homes between 2000-3000 square feet have a lower incidence of anxiety disorder than U.S. veterans who do not live in this type of situation?

More searchable version of a narrow question

Does size of living space impact the incidence of anxiety in U.S. veterans'?

It can sometimes be helpful to visual your topic as a VENN diagram. The following VENN diagram represents our search for articles that address all three concepts: U.S. veterans, traumatic pain injury, and pain management. Ideally you find articles at the intersection of these topics (represented by the middle of where the circles intersect in the diagram). It is not uncommon, however, to find articles at the intersection of a variety of combinations of 2 of the topics, but not all 3. These "topic adjacent" articles can still be useful for informing your topic even if they are not on your exact topic.

Searching the Literature

The OHSU librarians are here to assist you in developing search strategies and in searching databases. Please contact us to ask questions or set up a consultation.

There are different ways to approach a literature search. The way you choose will depend on a number of things, including the purpose of your search.

  • If you are looking for general knowledge to provide you with additional context on a topic on which you are not expert, for instance if presenting in a grand rounds, the tips listed in the basic searching and databases sections below should provide you with enough material. Librarians can help clarify the scope of a set of literature on a particular topic if you are not sure you are finding articles addressing the major aspects of your topic.
  • If you are seeking to publish a case report on a novel case your searching will need to be more detailed and comprehensive to ensure you have identified a unique situation to report. In these situations it is best to consult with a librarian.
  • A scoping review is designed to identify gaps in the research literature or obtain a broad overview of the scope of a body of literature. These are sometimes done as a precursor to systematic reviews as a way of better determining the specific question to be used in the systematic review.
  • A systematic review attempts to gather every study addressing a particular research question and rigorously evaluate the strength of evidence of each study and the strength of the evidence overall addressing that question. These are some of the more structured, involved searches. Read more about the ways in which the OHSU librarians can support you in doing a systematic review in the Scoping and Systematic Reviews section in the Publishing tab of this guide.
  • These are not the only kinds of search cases you might encounter. When in doubt, contact the librarians!

Use the tips below to search one or more of the databases below on your topic. These are not the only databases available, but are core databases in the health sciences. Other databases are listed on the OHSU Library's A-Z Databases List.

Best Practices in Searching

1. Frame an Answerable Question

  • Is it focused and specific?
  • Is it complex? If a quick Google search can answer your question, you should probably work on it further.

Your question will likely change as you collect information and do research. However, starting with a clear, focused question will direct you to the resources to search, allow you to know where to start, and help any collaborators you have agree with the direction of the research.

2. Select the Appropriate Resource to Search

Depending on your question, you can select any number of databases or resources to find information or answers. There are many databases and tools available through the OHSU Library website, and on this guide, you can find links to databases specific to education topics. We recommend you search more than one database for the most comprehensive search. Searching is a process; each resource contains different kinds of information. Understanding what the resource, or database, you are searching contains, how it is organized, and who produces it will go a long way to finding your information as efficiently as possible.

3. Evaluate your Information

  • Does it answer your question?
  • Do you need to rework your question?
  • Do you need to search a different resource/database?
  • Do you need to do a more effective search in the same database?

4. Redo, if necessary

Searching is an iterative process. Because it is a cycle, the information you find for your initial question often allows you to change how you did your initial search. You can go back to the beginning to modify your question adding the information or data you found in your search. Or you can select a different database or information resource because you have more knowledge gained from the first database you searched. Or you can use more targeted terminology, or subject headings, in the same database because you have learned the structure of language that database uses. Being flexible and incorporating the knowledge you learn to modify your search process will always give you better results.

5. And remember, always consult your librarian if you have questions.