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Advanced Literature Search Guide for Health: STEP 1: Background search

Step 1: Background searching

This page will explain what background searching is and how to do it. 

Background searching

What is background searching? 

Background searching is a preliminary search for information around your topic before you start your structured, systematic literature search. It can help you to gain an understanding of the topic, look at what literature is available on it and it can help you to think about what keywords you might use in your main search. 

Where to do a background search

Unlike your main literature search, you don't necessarily need to use a database for your background search. For example, you could use Discovery, Google or Google Scholar as well. Remember, you should use Discovery and Google only for preliminary searching to overview your topic before you start your in-depth literature search. For your literature search itself you will be using subject-specific databases. 

It is not good practice to start by choosing your articles from an initial Google or Discovery search as it may then prove very difficult and time consuming to find the same articles via the advanced database search later on. 

It is recommended that you only use Discovery or Google for preliminary searching to help you overview your topic prior to starting a more structured search.

Other Useful Sources

While you can use more general sources such as Google and Discovery at this stage, feel free to look in databases too. All of our databases can be found in our A-Z, and you can filter to your subject area. 

Other resources you may want to look at to see what information is available on your topic include: 

Government and Professional Bodies 
Professional bodies 


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