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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
Is the database you are searching the best for your research?
You may need to select different or additional ones.
Is your search query too long?
Every word you include narrows your search results because the database will try to find all of them in every record returned. Try shortening your search query.
Do you have multiple words that mean the same thing in your search?
Frequently, an abstract or article will use one synonym but not another, meaning that if you include both in the required search terms, you will cancel out finding the article. Overcome this by using Boolean OR.
Are you using Boolean terms correctly?
If you are using Boolean AND or NOT without using parentheses, you may be telling the database to limit your search more than you would like.
Are you searching an adequate time period?
This sort of literature search should include a broad period of time, with at least five years included.
Did you search in enough sources?
As the literature on animal research methods falls into so many different interdisciplinary areas, it is necessary to search more than one database as no one database contains all of the information available on any given topic.
Are your results useful?
Searchers must consider the quality of results that they find to be sure that they are adequate. Are you finding relevant results? If your results do not seem to match your search question, reconsider the search strategy.
Did you format your search query appropriately for the specific database?
Databases may return odd results because they are confused by the search query. Remember to capitalize Boolean search connectors (AND, OR, NOT) if necessary and take advantage of other search features in the particular database. See the Help and Tutorial sections of each database that you search for assistance.
Report your results
According to 9 CFR 2.31 (d)(1)(ii) of the Animal Welfare Act, the principal investigator is required to provide a written narrative to the IACUC stating that alternatives to painful procedures have been explored and the results of that search.
Animal Care Policy #12 of the USDA Animal Care Resource Guide, "Written Narrative for Alternatives to Painful Procedures" states:
When a database search is the primary means of meeting this requirement, the narrative must, as a minimum, include:
Regardless of the alternatives source(s) used, the written narrative should include adequate information for the IACUC to assess that a reasonable and good faith effort was made to determine the availability of alternatives or alternative methods.
- the names of the databases searched;
- the date the search was performed;
- the period covered by the search; and
- the key words and/or the search strategy used.
It will help your report to keep a log of the above four points for each search performed. You will be required to report this information anew to the IACUC when submitting a new protocol, amending an existing one, or requesting renewal.
Explanations of why an identified alternative was not used in the experimental procedure (if one is available) must also be included in the appropriate fields in your IACUC applications, as stated above.
In some fields, the development of new procedures in research may not be reported in journal literature, and thus may not be indexed in databases such as PubMed/MEDLINE. In these cases, it is the responsibility of the principal investigator to ensure that a search of appropriate literature sources such as government reports and conference proceedings is performed.
When an expert is consulted, a description of his/her credentials and relevant expertise must be included.
Manage your results
Keeping track of what databases you have searched, what keywords and questions you used in each database, and the results from each search can be time-consuming. The University Libraries support the use of Endnote, a citation manager, that can help you to organize your search results.
Using citation managers like EndNote, RefWorks, Mendeley, and Zotero has some major advantages. One is that you can attach notes to each reference, including keywords, subjects, and abstracts; this can help you to document your alternatives search. You can also automatically remove duplicate references that you have retrieved from searching different databases.
The Endnote: Getting Started guide can help you get started using this tool. We also offer numerous workshops on using Endnote throughout the year, or you can schedule a time to meet with a reference librarian to help you take advantage of this resource.