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IACUC: The 3Rs and the Literature Search

Step 4: Evaluate Your Search

When evaluating your alternatives searches, there are a number of questions you can ask yourself to evaluate the progresss of your literature search. The answers to the questions will help you determine whether your search is complete or whether you need to continue.

  • How many citations did I find?
    The main problem that literature searchers encounter is finding either too much or too little information. If you have found too few citations, consider searching more databases, broadening your search terms, or searching a larger time span. If you find too many citations, perhaps you can limit or narrow your search terms to be more specific.
  • Are my keyword terms related to my protocol?
    While this seems like an obvious question to ask, it is still very important. Make sure that the words you use to search are relevant to your research - otherwise you will end up with results that are not useful to you.
  • What keyword terms did I use for animal testing alternatives?
    The NIH Library suggests that only using "terms for painful aspects" and using the term "alternative" without other synonyms could be a red flag for IACUCs and other investigatory bodies.
  • Are my keyword terms appropriate for the databases I searched?
    Some of the best databases use subject headings that can affect your search. For instance, PubMed uses the MeSH term "neoplasm" instead of "cancer". Other databases may focus more on common language terms. 
  • How many places did I look?
    Because the literature on animal research methods falls into so many different interdisciplinary areas, it is necessary to search more than one database. This is because no one database contains all of the information available on any given topic. While PubMed is a very good source, you will probably also want to search other databases such as Agricola, Biological Abstracts, Web of Science, PsycInfo, and several of the specialized alternatives databases.
  • Did I set up my search strategy appropriately?
    Databases may return odd results because they are confused by how you formulated your search. It will help to check the search tips or help pages in unfamiliar databases for strategies unique to the database.
  • Have I searched an adequate time period?
    It is important to examine the literature from a time period longer than the last few years in order to fully examine possible alternatives.