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Best Practice for Literature Searching

For the sciences of food and health

Deciding what to include in your review through critical appraisal

Once you have narrowed down your pool of results, it's time to begin critically appraising your articles.  Using a checklist helps you scrutinise articles in a consistent, structured way.  

Questions to consider include: 

  • Are the aims of the study clearly stated?
  • Is the study design suitable for the aims?
  • Are the measurements and methods used clearly described?
  • Are the correct measurement tools used?
  • Are the statistical methods described?
  • Was the sample size adequate? 
  • Are the methods overall described in enough detail that you could replicate the study?
  • Does the discussion overall reflect the results?
  • Who funded this study?
  • What are the specific limitations of what can be concluded from the study?

Working through the questions will help you identify the strengths and weakness of each article, and also identify points to draw on when you write about the literature. 

Additional critical appraisal checklists

REFLECT provides a checklist for evaluating randomized control trials in livestock and food safety. 

CASP provides checklists for critical appraisal of studies related to health.

JBI provides checklists for critical appraisal of studies related to health.

Documenting critical appraisal decisions

As you closely examine full articles, you will be making judgements about why to include or exclude each study from your review.  Documenting your reasoning will help you reassure yourself and demonstrate to others that you have been systematic and unbiased in your appraisal decisions.

 

 

Keeping track of what you have excluded, and why, will be very helpful if you must defend your work—for instance, if your literature review is part of a dissertation or thesis. 

 

 

 

Pulling all the literature you will include in your review into a single chart is a good way to begin to synthesise the literature. 

 

 

 

Best practice!

BEST PRACTICE RECOMMENDATIONIf you include any direct quotes in your chart (or in any notes) be sure to use quotation marks so that you don’t later mistake the words for your own.


BEST PRACTICE RECOMMENDATION: The more carefully you record each of the steps of your process, the more easily reproducible it will be. This is especially important for research abstracts and articles found in conference proceedings.