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Lightning Talk: Research Abstract

Yes, It Really Is Necessary to Use Controlled Vocabulary in Systematic Searches

Sunday, May 5
4:45 PM - 4:50 PM
Room: Columbus KL (East Tower, Ballroom/Gold Level)

Objectives : Do researchers ever ask you, "Is it truly necessary to use controlled vocabulary in a systematic search?" How about, "If a keyword search is sufficient in Scopus, why isn't a keyword search sufficient in MEDLINE?" Expert searchers know that searching with both keywords and subject headings, when possible, is a best practice. So let's find some real life examples!


Methods : Using five high-quality, fully reported systematic reviews published in prominent journals (JAMA, Lancet, BMJ) as a source of search strategies and inclusion decisions, I will investigate how many of the included articles are not retrieved by a keyword-only version of the documented search.


Results : For each of the five included studies, I will report these data points:
- number of included papers
- number of included papers found by the documented search strategy in MEDLINE or PubMed
- number of included papers found by a keyword-only version of the documented search strategy in MEDLINE or PubMed
- number of included papers that could have been missed, had the authors not used controlled vocabulary in the MEDLINE or PubMed search


Conclusions : I anticipate that this small-scale study will demonstrate what expert searchers already know: that a search strategy with controlled vocabulary and keywords is better than a search strategy with keywords alone. Because this small-scale study draws on examples of real publications from prominent journals (instead of hypothetical examples created by librarians), I anticipate that its anecdotal findings will be useful in systematic review planning consultations.

Kate Nyhan

Research and education librarian
Yale University
New Haven, Connecticut

Kate Nyhan, MLS, is the research and education librarian for public health at Cushing/Whitney Medical Library, Yale University. She is also a lecturer in Environmental Health Sciences at Yale School of Public Health.
Kate is the incoming chair of the Sewell Stipend Committee of the Public Health / Health Administration Section; learn more about the great opportunity to attend the American Public Health Association meeting with a cohort of early-career health sciences librarians at https://sites.google.com/view/sewellstipend/home.
Supporting materials for some of Kate's projects, including MLA19 content, are available on OSF at https://osf.io/6mt5s/.
Tweet Kate a cute animal picture @kdnyhan.

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