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Doing the literature review: Scoping search

Scoping search

A scoping search is a search technique you can use as a first step in your literature review: its main objective is to rapidly and efficiently determine the scale of a predefined topic. The results will give you an impression of how many articles you are likely to find and of the keywords used to describe them. The scoping search will also reveal 'key publications' and give you an insight into the usefulness of a particular database for your topic. It will also allow you to become familiar with the features of a database.

Creating an overview of keywords used

When you do a scoping search it can be hard to extract the keywords attached to records in the search result. To get an overview of those keywords, you can use a visualization tool like VOSviewer. There are more tools like this one, but for this module we focus on VOSviewer.
The keyword map created by VOSviewer can reveal previously unknown keywords. This can help you to broaden your search. The map also takes into account the co-occurence of keywords. Keywords that appear together are added to the same clusters and get the same color. These colors can help you identify different subtopics within a topic (for example a particular treatment or particular population). This can help you to focus your search.
In the video Introduction to VOSviewer (11:00), one of the developers of VOSviewer, Nees Jan van Eck of Leiden University, explains how to use the tool.

Example of an author keyword map

Author Keyword map based on a search for cyberbullying in Scopus
An example of a co-occurence map of author keywords for the search cyberbullying OR "cyber bullying" in Scopus. Chosen threshold: 5 occurrences: of 5874 keywords, 427 keywords meet that threshold. Click the picture to open the map in VOSviewer Online.

Activity: Creating a keyword map with VOSviewer

In the handout VOSviewer Keywords Map (PDF) we explain how you can create such a keyword map for your own research topic. We use Scopus as the example database, but you can also use data from Web of Science and PubMed and from other databases (as long as you can export data in RIS-format and the file contains keyword-data).