Expert searching

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  • Updated.jpg This entry is out of date, and will not be updated, August 2018


  • systematic review; knowledge synthesis; concept synthesis; critical interpretive synthesis; integrative review; meta-synthesis; meta ethnography; metastudy; meta-interpretation narrative synthesis; realist review, rapid review


See also Evidence-based health care | Grey literature | Hand-searching | Reporting standards for literature reviews in health | Search filters & hedges | Snowballing

Expert searching refers to a range of advanced search skills and knowledge health librarians cultivate in order to provide advanced research and consultation services to users. The ability to locate information to answer specific clinical queries is highly coveted in the Google age. In addition, health librarians are sought for their expert skills and ability to locate all relevant research papers for systematic reviews. To immerse yourself in various discussions of the expert skills, knowledge and abilities needed for this type of searching, start with MLA's The role of expert searching in health sciences libraries. Keep in mind it is widely-known that health librarians can bring their expertise and knowledge of information sources to bear at the outset of any review. Consult your local academic health or hospital librarian to discuss what kinds of searching they support (and at what level) in their work.

To see examples of MeSH terms and keywords to improve search sensitivity, check out MedTerm Search Assist. University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

For a view of smart searching (which includes aspects of expert searching), see Smart Searching: Logical Steps to Building and Testing Your Literature Search.

Presentation & Handout

What is expert searching?

Expert searching is a mediated process where users seek consultation from a recognized expert such as an information retrieval specialist or librarian. The recognized expert identifies the information need, devises a strategy to uncover useful information and performs a search that requires a combination of the following key skills and knowledge:

  • knowledge of information sources, and subject domain knowledge
  • ability to perceive implications of the articulated information need
  • ability to identify and search resources in proprietary databases and the general web
  • ability to recognize personal searcher limitations
  • knowledge of database indexing or metadata conventions
  • expert knowledge of retrieval systems, platforms, syntax and updating practices
  • ability to employ an iterative and heuristic search process for discovery of evidence
  • ability to efficiently and effectively evaluate retrieved evidence
  • ability to process results and present coherently through removal of irrelevant items from search results
  • ability to document search for end-user information, grant applications, clinical trials or eventual publication
  • ability to use deductive and inductive reasoning combined with subject domain knowledge to respond to information need

See CADTH. Finding the Evidence: Literature Searching Tools in Support of Systematic Reviews

Developing expert searches

  • Take a step-wise approach to constructing your search strategies; break down concepts; keywords
  • Consider developing your search strategies and "filters" in a Word document before going online
  • Use a template or worksheet with concepts listed, Boolean operators, delimitors, databases, websites
  • Create search strategies by using different "block" for each concept & stage
  • Use Boolean operators to connect major concept blocks
  • Invite peer review or critical appraisal from other search experts
  • Document your search activities for auditing, reproducibility

See UTH TMC Handouts & Early Review Organizing Software



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