Electronic searching to locate qualitative research: evaluation of three strategies


Kate Flemming:
e-mail: kaf1@york.ac.uk


Title.Electronic searching to locate qualitative research: evaluation of three strategies

Aim.  This paper presents an evaluation of the effectiveness of three search strategies to identify research for a qualitative synthesis of patient experiences of living with a leg ulcer.

Background.  Systematic reviews of research are increasingly the form of evidence used for evaluation of health care. There are well-established methods for conducting systematic reviews of effectiveness incorporating randomized controlled trials. Methods have been developed for the synthesis of qualitative research, but these are not widely used or evaluated. Searching for qualitative research is one of the least developed and tested areas in systematic reviewing of qualitative research.

Method.  The replication of three search strategies (free text, thesaurus and broad-based terms) developed for identification of qualitative research papers within electronic databases is described. Each strategy was run in seven electronic databases: MEDLINE, CINAHL, EMBASE, British Nursing Index, Social Science Citation Index, Applied Social Sciences Index and Abstracts, PsychInfo. The effectiveness of these strategies for identifying qualitative research for a synthesis of patients’ experiences of living with a leg ulcer is discussed.

Findings.  Each of the three search strategies produced similar numbers of potentially and actually relevant papers from each of the seven databases. These results were most striking for CINAHL, when all of the papers ultimately included in the review were identified by each search strategy. No other database identified all included papers.

Conclusion.  A simple search strategy using broad-based terms was as effective as a complex one (free text) in locating qualitative research examining patients’ experiences of living with a leg ulcer. For a question with a clear nursing focus, it may be sufficient to search only CINAHL in order to locate qualitative research. This result needs replicating with other nursing topics.