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Cleveland Clinic Florida - How to Conduct Systematic Reviews: Step 2: Identify your keywords

Concept maps

Sample concept map by the Humboldt State University Library. (click to enlarge.)

This guide was adapted from How to Find and Conduct Systematic Reviews by Dr. Barbara Sorondo from Florida International University, and from Systematic Reviews: the process by Duke University.

Your to do list

 
  1. Clearly state the research topic you have chosen in as much detail as possible, either in a statement or as a question.
  • Example: How does sleep deprivation affect learning in college students?
  1. Identify the main and unique keywords in your research topic.
  • Hint: first, eliminate all the non-essential (i.e., general) words in your topic.
    • ExampleHow does sleep deprivation affect learning in college students → sleep deprivation learning college students
  • Tip: write your keywords (which may consist of more than one word) in different lines.
    • Example:
      • sleep deprivation
      • learning
      • college students

3. Apply quotation marks (“ ”) and asterisks (*) to your search.

  • Use quotation marks around phrases (keywords consisting of two or more words that must go together) to keep the words together.
    • Example:
      • "sleep deprivation"
      • "college students"
  • Use asterisks to “fill-in-the-blank” at the end of a word (this is called truncation). The asterisk will be replaced by any letter(s) that could possibly end the word. This is an extremely useful tool when you have a unique root that can be combined with many different word endings.
    • Examples:
      • learn* (= learn, learning, learner, learners, etc.)
    • Note: some databases will not let you combine asterisks and quotation marks.
      • "college student*" → Be careful: may not work in all databases!

4. Identify any synonyms or related terms and add them to the appropriate row of keywords, using quotation marks and asterisks as applicable. The more synonyms you include, the more results you will obtain, so be as exhaustive as possible to ensure you capture all that is available on your topic. (For simplicity, this example search will include only a few synonyms.)

  • Example:
    • "sleep deprivation," "REM deprivation"
      • learn*
      • "college students," "university students"