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Psychology: DClin systematic literature searching: 1. Defining your research question

This tutorial will guide you through the steps required to systematically search for literature for your service-related project and thesis.
The first step to a successful systematic literature search is developing a question that can be answered, and lends itself to systematic searching. Take some time to think about what information gap you are trying to fill, or what question you are trying to answer. It can be useful to ask:

What, Where, how image

It is likely you will need to undertake a scoping search to help you anticipate what sort of results you might get for your question. E.g. It allows you to assess the potential size / scope of available literature. If the topic is too new, there may not be enough to review!

Types of Research Question

Systematic searches address clear and answerable research questions. Here are examples of types of question that could be addressed:

  1. Needs   (What do people want?)  Example: What are the information needs of health workers regarding mindfulness as a treatment for anxiety?
  2. Impact or effectiveness (What is the balance of benefit and harm of a given intervention?) Example: What is the effectiveness of CBT for depression?
  3. Process or explanation (Why does it work (or not work)?, How does it work (or not work)?)  Example: What factors are associated with the uptake of CBT for the management of anxiety? 
  4. Correlation (What relationships are seen between phenomena?) Example: How does mental health vary with morbidity and mortality among patients? (Note: correlation does not in itself indicate causation).
  5. Views/perspectives (What are people's experiences? )  Example: What are the views and experiences of patients regarding psychological therapies for mental healthcare?
  6. Service implementation (What is happening?) Example: What is known about the implementation and context of interventions to promote IAPT programmes among healthcare workers?
Inclusion and exclusion criteria set the boundaries for your systematic search and consider many different factors. These can include the topic, the research methods of the studies, specific populations, settings, date limits, geographical areas, types of interventions, or something else. The inclusion criteria is everything a study must have in order to be included. The exclusion criteria are the factors that would make a study ineligible to be included. They are determined after setting the research question (usually before searching).

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