Systematic Bibliographic Database Searching for Literature Reviews: Case Study on Child Protection Decision-Making

Ravit Alfandari, Brian Taylor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
262 Downloads (Pure)


Skills of the ‘information age’ need to be applied to social work. Conceptual and practical aspects of using online bibliographic databases to identify research were explored using multi-professional decision-making in child protection as a case study. Five databases (Social Science Citation Index, Scopus, Medline, Social Work Abstracts and Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials) were searched for relevant studies, retrieving 6,934 records of which fifty-eight studies were identified as relevant. The usefulness of specific search terms and the process of learning from the terminology of previous searches are illustrated, as well as the value of software to manage retrieved studies. Scopus had the highest sensitivity (retrieving the highest number of relevant articles) and retrieved the most articles not retrieved by any other database (exclusiveness). All databases had low precision on this topic, despite extensive efforts in selecting search terms. Cumulative knowledge about search strategies and empirical comparison of database utility helps to increase the efficiency of systematic literature searching. Such endeavours encourage and support professionals to use the best available evidence to inform practice and policy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)518-535
Number of pages18
JournalBritish Journal of Social Work
Issue number1
Early online date11 Feb 2021
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 15 Jan 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Author(s) 2021.


  • Bibliographic databases
  • child protection
  • child abuse
  • child welfare
  • decision making
  • risk
  • evidence based practice
  • information storage and retrieval
  • Literature searching
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Health (social science)


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