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Research Matters: Different types of searching

Research Matters

What type of searching do you need to do?

Please also see the following sections of Library Matters: Doing a literature reviewAdvanced Searching. 

This will depend on what you are writing, which may be coursework, or a literature review or systematic review as part of your thesis/dissertation. For coursework, you will probably only need to use some basic search techniques in one or two of our full-text databases to find enough material. A literature review might involve more advanced search techniques and use of indexing databases.

Systematic searching

Systematic searching to do a systematic review, or systematic-type review, is much more thorough and structured, and should be reproduceable. It's usually used in health and medicine related subject areas, such as dietetics, nutrition, and psychology. There may be others. It's usually necessary to do some scoping searches, to see what's been published, to help to focus your research question/topic, as well as to review and edit your searches until you have a final systematic search that includes all possible synonyms and index/thesaurus terms. The following document outlines the functionality available in the indexing databases that can help you with systematic searching:

The PICO acronym can help you to both design your research question and to split it back up into parts to be searched:





Patient or population and/or problem

Adults with diabetes type 2


Intervention, therapy or treatment

Ketogenic diet



Nordic diet



Weight loss and metabolism


The Prisma flow diagram available at can help you to record your results at each stage of your searching, filtering and screening processes.

You may be pointed towards other guidelines by your course team.

Systematic searching for Business & Management

The Systematic search and review process has been developed and used mainly for scientific research. Business researchers have started to tailor this research method and adapting some of the processes for their own research purposes.
What is it ?   
It is method consisting of several or more predefined stages which are followed rigorously throughout the whole research process. Within the framework the literature searching criteria are set out in a series of organised steps and this is one of the areas of interest to business researchers.
When researching business and management subjects a number of steps can be reduced in the literature search as it may not be appropriate to follow every research step as is carried out for scientific research. Guidelines can be found on the PRISMA  website as well as useful flow charts and checklists in the form of templates to help you with keeping records of your searches and results.
This enables a body of literature to be captured, then reviewed and assessed using standardised techniques or methods as laid out by the systematic review template. It helps set out goals to identify, select, review and critically analyse the existing literature and provide a summary highlighting evidence and conclusions on a research question or problem.

person in blue tee shirt wearing brown beanie writing on white board
 Image by Startupstock photos.
How is it done?
There are four main steps each having a number of predefined processes to follow.
  1. Formulate your question:
  1.  your objectives need to be clearly defined and laid out in the form of a research question and its limits or parameters
  2.  list the set of pre-defined criteria for inclusion/exclusion of the literature to be searched and reviewed
  2. Search for existing research work or studies by starting your literature scoping exercise:
  1. have a predetermined search strategy in the collection of the information such as keywords, synonyms and search operators
  2. decide on specific databases and resources such as Web of Science , EBSCO subject collections, research networks, Library collections etc. 
  3.  systematically follow the process laid out in a flow diagram chart and fill in results for each search criteria and results
  4. make sure the predefined search criteria apply to all the sources utilised and that these are clearly presented in the review
  5. this search process may need to be redone many times in order to obtain valid results
3. Assess, analyse the quality of existing research:
  1. Identifying conflicting findings
  2. identify similar findings
  3. identify themes
  4. elements that need further investigation
  5. evaluate consistencies, inconsistencies, generalisations or evidence 
  6. justify the exclusion of some literature sources found
  4. Interpret the findings and suggest ways of addressing problems arising from the research review:
  1. provide comparison of the results
  2.  provide a qualitative synthesis of the results in a flow diagram chart
  3.  include references to any incoherencies and any errors found in the research collected and analysed
  4. summarise the evidence
Helpful resources
Some useful material with examples of using systematic reviews in business and management research:
De Menezes, L. M. & Kelliher, C. (2011). 'Flexible Working and Performance: A Systematic Review of the Evidence for a Business Case'. International journal of management reviews. 13(4), pp. 452-474. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2370.2011.00301.x   Available on the Library Catalogue
Denyer, David & Tranfield, David. (2009). 'Producing a systematic review', Buchanan, David A. and Bryman, A. (eds.)The SAGE handbook of organizational research methods. London: Sage., pp:671-689.  Available on the Library Catalogue
Rousseau, Denise M., Beck, Donna., Kim, Byeongjo., Splenda, Ryan., & Young, Sarah. (2019). "PROTOCOL: Does executive compensation predict publicly traded firms’ financial performance or inaccurate financial reporting?" Campbell systematic reviews, 15 (4).
This title is available on open access. 

Citation searching and analysis

Some databases allow you to see which articles have cited the one that you are reading, and/or have options for you to search directly for citations and analyse the results. Web of Science has several citation features, as explained in the 10-minute video below. 



Image of a snowball that has rolled down hill and gained in size.
"Snow Ball" by Beige Alert is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
Unofficially named snowballing, this search technique is less structured and more like discovering things accidentally on purpose.
The technique includes:
  • Looking for useful sources in the reference lists of relevant articles already found;
  • Looking at citing articles - some databases give you a list of sources that cite the one you are viewing;
  • Looking at similar articles - some databases give a list of similar articles when you view an article record;
  • Looking at articles that have been categorised with the same keywords or subject headings as one you are viewing.
Take a look at the Current Awareness section for more ideas on boosting serendipitous discovery.