Healthcare Writing

Colleen Shannon, Freelance Medical Writer

Literature searches

Searching the evidence

A literature search has always been a part of good medical writing, but tighter regulations and schemes like the Department of Health’s Information Standard mean this process is increasingly formalised.
When you're up against a deadline, it's tempting to leap right in and Google everything on your topic. But starting with a plan is ultimately faster and it helps you remain objective.

The main steps are:

• Write a clear research question.
• Set limits for your question, such as a time period.
• Brainstorm a list of key words for your question.
• At this point you are ready to search. If you don't get enough results - or if you get too many - you can try with another question.

Our brains don't always follow these rules, though. One fascinating study found that strict searching protocols are not the only effective method. (Greenhalgh et al 2005) Researchers also got good results by asking their contacts, using their own knowledge, and tracking down references cited in other papers.