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Research | Research Methods | Literature Review

Research Methods | Literature Review

Searching the Literature

Before you start your research project it is essential to find out what is already known about the research topic and to read any relevant work that is out there. As MI pharmacists, the need to develop advanced skills in retrieving, assimilating and interpreting published work comes with the territory. But, at risk of teaching grandma to suck eggs, we will highlight some pointers in the context of pharmacy practice research.

Why review the literature?

·         to refine your research question and objectives

·         to highlight research possibilities you have overlooked

·         to discover whether explicit recommendations for further research into your topic have been made

·         to help avoid inappropriate repetition of other people’s work

·         to gain insight into current opinions

·         to investigate appropriate research strategies and methodologies

Where to find pharmacy practice research

In the past pharmacists have not been renowned for getting their research published; fortunately that situation is changing. Today we are publishing more articles and they are being published not only in pharmacy journals but also in highly respected, mainstream journals. That means that you will need to do a broad search of medical bibliographic databases, such as Medline, as well as pharmacy orientated systems, like Pharm-line and International Pharmaceutical Abstracts.


1.      UKMi website
This website contains a list of published and ongoing research concerned with Medicines Information Services in the MI Research to Date section.


2.      Pharm-line
The Pharm-line database is a good starting point if you are trying to find pharmacy practice research, particularly if it has been carried out in the UK. The database includes abstracts of articles on pharmacy practice and the clinical use of drugs from over 100 major English language pharmaceutical and medical journals. You can find a list of the journals covered here. All medicines information centres in the UK should have access to Pharm-line and to the user guide that gives detailed search instructions.


3.     Embase, Medline and Cochrane

Start with Embase before moving onto Medline. This is because Embase covers a much larger number of biomedical journals. In particular, it is more comprehensive for pharmaceutical, European and drug-related journals. For example many articles in the Pharmaceutical Journal are included. However, although most NHS sites can access Embase for free, if it is not available in your area, then it is very expensive to buy.

The Cochrane Library has some content relevant to pharmacy practice research (e.g. systematic review of the literature on training health professionals on smoking cessation) so shouldn’t be overlooked.


4.      International Pharmaceutical Abstracts
The International Pharmaceutical Abstracts database produced by the American Society of Hospital Pharmacists (ASHP) offers comprehensive coverage of world pharmacy literature from 1970, including pharmacy practice and education. The scope of the database ranges from clinical pharmacy to legislation, sociology, economics, ethics and information processing and literature. Coverage includes abstracts from state pharmacy journals, ASHP meetings (from 1988), with the records updated monthly. International Pharmaceutical Abstracts is searchable through various interfaces, including online. The biggest drawback to use of this database has always been its relatively high cost. Experienced pharmacists in regional medicines information centres will search International Pharmaceutical Abstracts online occasionally, especially for those enquiries that specifically relate to pharmacy practice research. Depending on how you want to access the database it can be possible to pay for blocks of access time.  Contact the supplier for more details.


5.      Hand searching
You may also need to search by hand through previous reports of research symposia and conferences such as those organised by UKCPA, RPSGB and the European Association of Hospital Pharmacists. There is no denying that hand searching is extremely tedious but it can sometimes bring useful literature to light (it’s not so many years since literature searching of any kind was time-consuming and tedious!).


6.      Unpublished and ongoing research
It is also worth trying to locate any unpublished or ongoing research; you can check out the Department of Health’s National Research Findings Register or the National Research Register. In addition we have included a section in this site to detail research projects that are ongoing in medicines information in the
MI Research to Date section.


7.      CINAHL
The Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature has an emphasis on nursing. However, about 35% of the records refer to allied health disciplines, such as health education or occupational therapy. Besides journal articles, CINAHL also covers books, conference proceedings, dissertations and standards of professional practice.


8.      When all else fails……..
If you still haven’t come up with much and you begin to feel a bit desperate then it might be helpful to put a question on the MI discussion network; this will allow you to find out whether any MI colleagues are aware of research (maybe local, unpublished) that has already been done on your topic and possibly to gauge current practice in other parts of the country.



Appraising Research Literature

Much has been written on the critical evaluation of research literature and this site does not intend to duplicate what has been written already. This section is not intended for those involved in formal critical of the literature as part of their role on drugs committees, for example. Use the following sources to guide you through your systematic appraisal of the literature for your project:


1.     Online resources

·         For those just starting out, the UKMi Training Workbook contains a short chapter on the critical appraisal of clinical trials. Access via The Manpower and Training section at www.ukmi.nhs.uk


·         The Public Health Resource Unit’s Critical Appraisal Skills Programme (CASP) and Evidence-based Practice site at http://www.phru.nhs.uk/ provides very useful appraisal tools for different types of research study as well as links to different sources of research evidence.


·         The University of Sheffield’s School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR) site is also an excellent platform for jumping to many useful critical appraisal resources.


·         The sites of Bandolier and Clinical Evidence, although registration may be required for the latter.


Also try the following articles;


Using evidence to guide practice. (2005) MeReC Briefing 30, National Prescribing Centre.

Using evidence to guide practice - supplement. (2005). MeReC Briefing 30(S), National Prescribing Centre.

Jones, C. How to appraise a clinical paper critically. Pharmaceutical Journal 2002;268:875-877.

 Pegler S, Underhill, J. Evaluating promotional material from industry: an evidence-based approach. Pharmaceutical Journal 2005;274:271-274.

 Underhill J, Pegler S. Dealing with information overload: application of evidence at point of care. Pharmaceutical Journal 2005;274:148-150.



2.     Other resources

The following textbooks are excellent for all researchers;

  • Greenhalgh T. How to read a paper. 2nd ed. London: BMJ Publishing Group; 2001
  • Sackett DL, Richardson WS, Rosenberg WMC, Haynes RB. Evidence-Based Medicine: How to practice and teach EBM. London: Churchill-Livingstone, 1996.

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