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Systematized review methods for SBS 402

Information about the methods used in systematic reviews that can be adapted for SBS capstone projects.

Keywords and controlled vocabulary

You're probably familiar with using keywords to search for information. This is called "natural language searching," because we use the words that come to our minds when thinking about our main concepts. We want to include keywords in our searches. 

We also want to use controlled vocabulary, which are standardized terms that provide a consistent way to describe concepts. Each article in a database has been assigned controlled vocabulary terms that identify the concepts that are central to the topic of the article. 

If I search using the controlled vocabulary term "academic persistence," my results will only include those sources that have been tagged as having academic persistence as central to their topic, not articles that merely mention that term anywhere in the full text. 

Boolean searching

We will be using Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT) to construct our search strings. If you're not familiar with Boolean operators, watch this video. 

Choosing databases

For your systematized review, you will need to choose three CSUMB library databases that: 

  • Cover subjects related to your research question
  • Use controlled vocabulary (note: JSTOR does not use controlled vocabulary)
  • Have advanced searching capabilities

Academic Search Premier is a good database for all social science topics. Depending on your research question, other good choices might include: 

  • Communication Source (media studies, including social media)
  • ERIC (education)
  • GenderWatch (gender studies)
  • Medline (health)
  • PsycInfo (psychology) 
  • Social Sciences Abstracts
  • Sociological Abstracts

I will need to approve your databases before you move on with the next step. 

You can find all of the CSUMB Library's databases on the articles and databases web page. 

Populating your concept table

Your next step is to create a concept table, which is where you will generate keywords and controlled vocabulary that relate to each of your main concepts. These terms will be used to create your search strings. 

Concept table template

Example of a completed concept table

This video will walk you through how to populate your concept table, including generating keywords, controlled vocabulary, and search strings. 

The next step for your concept table is to put all of your keywords and controlled vocabulary that are phrases in quotation marks. We do this so that the databases search for the phrase "student parents," for example, rather than searching for "students" and "parents" as separate words. 

Example:  "postsecondary education" OR colleges OR universities OR "higher education" OR "state universities"

Notice that the search terms that are single words (colleges, universities) do not need to be in quotation marks. 

How the concept table organizes your search

To be able to check that your concept table is put together properly, you need to understand how it will translate into your database search in the next step. 

What we want is for the database to return articles that include all of our main concepts. 

In each column, the different terms representing that main concept are connected by "OR," meaning that any one of those terms represents that concept. When we search in the databases, each column will be connected by "AND," meaning that we're searching for sources that include at least one term from each column. In other words, the we are looking for sources that include all of our main concepts, we've just used a lot of different terms to represent what our main concepts are. 

If there's a term in one of your columns that doesn't really represent that concept, consider removing it, as it will produce some irrelevant results. 

Best practices

If one of your main concepts is "best practices," it can be challenging to generate keywords. "Best practices" isn't a great keyword because most studies will evaluate a single practice and thus not use the term "best practices." You can include it, just in case, but you'll want to make sure to come up with a number of other keywords in this column. 

Your keywords will depend on your topic, and what the best practices might entail. You may have to do some exploratory searching to figure this out. 

For example, if my topic is: What are the best practices for diagnosing postpartum depression in healthcare settings? I would do some initial searches on "postpartum depression" and "diagnosis." What I find might be the evaluation of specific guidelines, protocols, or practices for diagnosing postpartum depression. The terms "guidelines," "protocols," and "practices" would all be good additions to my keywords in the "best practices" column.