Educational interventions to improve literature searching skills in the health sciences: a scoping review

Julian Hirt, Thomas Nordhausen, Jasmin Meichlinger, Volker Braun, Adelheid Zeller, Gabriele Meyer


Objective: The authors reviewed educational interventions for improving literature searching skills in the health sciences.

Methods: We performed a scoping review of experimental and quasi-experimental studies published in English and German, irrespective of publication year. Targeted outcomes were objectively measurable literature searching skills (e.g., quality of search strategy, study retrieval, precision). The search methods consisted of searching databases (CINAHL, Embase, MEDLINE, PsycINFO, Web of Science), tracking citations, free web searching, and contacting experts. Two reviewers performed screening and data extraction. To evaluate the completeness of reporting, the Template for Intervention Description and Replication (TIDieR) was applied.

Results: We included 6 controlled trials and 8 pre-post trials from the 8,484 references that we screened. Study participants were students in various health professions and physicians. The educational formats of the interventions varied. Outcomes clustered into 2 categories: (1) developing search strategies (e.g., identifying search concepts, selecting databases, applying Boolean operators) and (2) database searching skills (e.g., searching PubMed, MEDLINE, or CINAHL). In addition to baseline and post-intervention measurement, 5 studies reported follow-up. Almost all studies adequately described their intervention procedures and delivery but did not provide access to the educational material. The expertise of the intervention facilitators was described in only 3 studies.

Conclusions: The results showed a wide range of study populations, interventions, and outcomes. Studies often lacked information about educational material and facilitators’ expertise. Further research should focus on intervention effectiveness using controlled study designs and long-term follow-up. To ensure transparency, replication, and comparability, studies should rigorously describe their intervention.

 This article has been approved for the Medical Library Association’s Independent Reading Program.


Evidence-Based Medicine; Literature Search; Scoping Review

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