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Homepage / Systematic Literature Review – Identifying your search terms and constructing your search strings

Systematic Literature Review – Identifying your search terms and constructing your search strings


books open on a desk

Our previous posts on the systematic review have looked at getting started and selecting your sources. Here we will look at next fundamental stage:

  • Identifying your search terms and constructing your search strings

An additional post is available on combining your search strings to create your search strategies.

Identifying your search terms

Having decided which sources you need to search, the next step in the systematic literature review process is to identify your search terms or keywords:

    • These may be individual words such as customer, or phrases like “customer research management”. Note when searching for phrases in our databases, they will need to be inside inverted commas.
    • Your search terms should consist of not just the words which are included in your research question, but also synonyms (e.g. customer OR consumer), spelling variants, and also any important concepts.
    • Spelling variants such as organization and organisation can be dealt with by using the wildcard symbol (‘?’) in place of a single letter. For example, a search for ‘organi?ation’ will look for both spellings of the word. 
    • Use the truncation symbol (‘*’) at the end of a whole or partial word to search for different word endings, e.g. strateg* will find strategies, strategy, strategic etc.
  • In choosing your keywords, remember that the aim is to identify all relevant literature without making the search so broad that you retrieve lots of irrelevant material.  For example, the synonyms for customer in the example below have been combined into a search string using the word OR:

(consumer OR customer OR client OR user)

Note that words such as individual or person or subject haven’t been included as these would produce a lot of irrelevant material.

Constructing your search strings

Once you have chosen your keywords and phrases, these can now be combined into search strings. Some examples of search strings are given below:

String 1 (“supply chain*” OR “supply network*” OR “demand chain*” OR “demand network*” OR “value chain*” OR “value network*”) 

String 2 (“lead time compression” OR “lead time reduction” OR “cycle time compression” OR “cycle time reduction” OR “dwell time compression” OR “dwell time reduction”)

String 3 (agil* OR “quick response” OR speed*)

Now that you have created your search strings, you are ready to move on to decide on your search strategies.

Other blog posts you may find useful

Contact us

Because of the complexity of this process we would recommend that before embarking on a systematic literature review you come and speak to a member of the MIRC team who will be happy to guide you through the process.

Feature image from Pixabay

Mary Betts-Gray

Written By: Cranfield University

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