What is a Literature Search?

The library service offers evidence-based literature searching services, where members of the library team can provide high quality searching through the medical literature. The librarians regularly attend training, self-study, and shadow other information professionals so we can be confident that we provide the highest quality evidence for patient care, guideline production or study.

If you are Nurse looking for new qualitative research, a GP identifying best practice or a clinician writing a departmental guideline or systematic review, a high-quality literature search is the ideal starting place to save time.


What are the key elements of a Literature Search


Keyword/Thesaurus Database Searching

Using a controlled vocabulary thesaurus such as MESH combined with freetext, limiting options to high-quality resources such as RCTs and Reviews a search is produced that aims to capture the most evidence for a specific clinical question. It isn't just Pubmed either, as the Librarian searches through multiple databases such as CINAHL, EMBASE and PsycINFO to ensure that completeness to the search.

Search Strategy

Every search is provided with a search strategy, wherever possible so you can identify the search terms used. If you feel that aspects of the search are missing (often reading a literature search opens up new concepts and subjects you may wish to explore) , we welcome a request to re-run the search with additional search terms.

Search Synthesis

If requested, we can assist with search synthesis where we can provide results summarised for easy adaptation into guidelines or reviews. This is a quite lengthy process, so we only usually undertake a synthesis if the evidence is for patient care or high-quality evidence such as a systematic review.


We can provide the results in a format suitable for importing into reference management software such as Mendeley or Endnote. Please ask if this is required.

Current Awareness Updates

We can also provide a current awareness update on any search requested, usually monthly and to your email.


Who can request a literature search

Any member of clinical staff in Bedfordshire, Public Health, Hospice and Community Teams. The only exception is students, where the question is used for coursework (although we are happy to book students on our literature searching training sessions)


How long does a search take?

A basic search can be completed in a few hours, however longer more complex searches with synthesis can take a few weeks. We often email questions about the search, so prompt replies to our requests help a lot! We often have requests for quick searches for journal clubs and patient care, either so visit the library or contact your local library by phone for a prompt service.


How do I request a search?

Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with your search request, staff members based at Bedford Hospital should contact the Bevan Library. Please always tell us how urgent the search is (urgently needed that day for patient care, or can wait a week) as we often have multiple searches and research work to complete daily, and will prioritise accord to immediate need.

if you would like to submit a search as a 'PICO ' clinical question it assists the library team in formulating a more accurate search strategy. Guidance can be found at Weill Cornell Medicine - Qatar 


Can I learn how to search myself?

Certainly! It is a valuable skill for any professional or student, and attendance on training sessions can be used for CPD or Revalidation purposes. Visit our training page for upcoming sessions.