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Evaluating Your Search
There are a number of questions you can ask yourself to evaluate your literature search. The answers to these questions will help you determine whether your search is complete or whether you need to continue searching.
How many citations did I find?
- If you find too few citations, consider searching more databases, broadening your search terms, or searching a larger time span. If you find too many citations, limit or narrow your search terms to be more specific.
Are my search terms related to my protocol?
- Make sure that the words you use are relevant to your research - otherwise you will end up with results that are not useful to you.
What search terms did I use for animal testing alternatives?
- Using "terms for painful aspects" and using the term "alternative" without other synonyms could be a red flag for IACUCs and other investigatory bodies.
Are my search terms appropriate for the databases I searched?
- Some of the best databases use subject headings that can affect your search. For instance, PubMed uses the MeSH term "neoplasm" instead of "cancer". Other databases may focus more on common language terms.
How many places did I look?
- Literature on animal research methods falls into so many different interdisciplinary areas, making it necessary to search more than one database.
Did I set up my search strategy appropriately?
- Databases may return odd results because they are confused by how you formulated your search. Check the search tips or help pages, or the thesaurus in unfamiliar databases for strategies or subject headings unique to the database.
Have I searched an adequate time period?
- Examine the literature from a time period longer than the last few years in order to fully examine possible alternatives.
Reporting Your Results
According to the Animal Welfare Act, the principal investigator is required to provide a written narrative to his or her IACUC stating that alternatives to painful procedures have been explored and are not available. The narrative must, as a minimum, include:
- names of the databases searched
- date the search was performed
- date range covered by the search
- search terms and/or the search strategy used
The written narrative should include adequate information for the IACUC to assess that a reasonable and good faith effort was made to determine the availability of alternatives or alternative methods.