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Midwifery: Literature searching

Literature Searching -there's lots of advice on this page.

Have a look at the videos and the information on this page. Planning a good approach to your Literature Searching will lead to better results and give you a stronger foundation for success in your assignments.

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BEFORE LOGGING INTO ONLINE RESOURCES Log into My Unihub - go to My Study - Use the links in the My Library box

What is a literature search?

A literature search is a systematic and comprehensive search for information. This information will inform, underpin and /or shape your research. 

A literature search will help you to find out what has already been written in your subject area and identify the main trends. 

The information could be found in books, journal articles, reports, guidelines, case studies, policy documents, conference proceedings etc.

To do a full literature search you will need to use the recommended nursing academic journal databases. Online tutorials and help sheets for using the individual databases are also available. You also might need to look at NICE guidelines, the RCN, RCM, WHO and other official and professional organisations.

Remember, you must always be logged into MyUniHub first. That is how the databases know that you are from Middlesex University and that you don't have to pay!

Google Scholar is useful for citation searching (using sources cited in articles to lead to other sources) as it includes hyperlinks directly to cited sources. However, start with the academic journal databases that we subscribe to as in most cases you will get straight into the full-text.

More information about citation searching can be found on the Open University website.

Watch our videos on the right about Literature Searching and why keywords are so important!

Search Tips

Before you start searching:

It is useful to identify and list the key words and concepts you are interested in. This should include:

  • Synonyms - words that mean the same or similar thing. Make a list. Authors may choose to use one particular term rather than another in their articles.
  • Related terms and different word endings/plurals.
  • If you are interested in a particular ailment, illness or health condition, identify the different names that are used for it - medical and more general (formal/informal).
  • If you are interested in a particular treatment, identify the medication or treatment and the variety of names for it.
  • Make a note of acronyms and abbreviations. Including these in your search strategy ensures you are doing a thorough search.
  • Different spellings. American English spellings are worth including in your list of search terms.
  • Keep a record of keywords and your search strategies. These are an essential part of your research. They need to be described and recorded in your final dissertation as proof of a systematic and thorough approach.
  • Most databases allow you to create your own individual account where you can save your searches/results, print out the search strategy and set up email alerts to update you on up to date articles in your area of interest.

Once you start searching:

  • Break your topic or research question into its component parts and search for each separately.
  • Search using each term separately and look at the number of results to see which are most commonly used.
  • Do this for each part or concept within your topic of interest or research question. This gives you more flexibility in the way you can combine concepts together at a later stage.

Combining searches with 'and' and 'or'

  • Search using each term separately and look at the number of results to see which are most commonly used. You can later combine these using OR to include articles that contain any of the keywords, for a broad search. This is useful for synonyms, or terms that mean the same or similar.

        e.g. X OR Y OR Z retrieves results which have either term X or term Y or term Z.

  • Keywords that broaden or narrow down your search. Combine these using AND to search for articles which include all terms to focus/narrow a search.

         e.g. Q AND R AND S retrieves results which contain all three terms Q, R and S.


  • Spellings - Remember words may be spelt differently. Many databases have an international scope and the literature (and spellings) will reflect this.
  • Additional Keywords - Articles, and search results (especially abstracts) may indicate additional keywords you may not have identified which you can add to your search strategy. You may modify your search strategy as your knowledge of your topic grows.

For more detailed advice and tips use the Search Tips for Midwifery Students help sheet. Books on research and literature reviews also explain the process of literature searching in detail.

Literature searching... and using CINAHL

CINAHL: focusing on UK content

CINAHL Basic Search

CINAHL Advanced Search


The link below takes you to a glossary which provides explanations of words and terms you may come across when using the library web pages and resources to complete your research.

Testing treatments website

This website is about why testing treatments rigorously is important and what YOU can do to promote better research for better health care.

A very brief intro to Literature Searching

Finding and evaluating EVIDENCE for your assignments

A very brief video about Keywords

Searching for UK focused articles

Help Sheets

Helpsheets and worksheets from literature searching sessions