If you ask any research team what their biggest challenge is, chances are it will be the amount of time required to complete their work. When conducting a systematic review, full-text reference procurement can be particularly time-consuming. It can also be an extremely costly endeavour!
We spoke with Margaret Sampson, Manager of Library Services at CHEO (Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario), about how she conducts full-text searches from an institutional context. We also chatted with Raymond Daniel, Assistant Information Specialist, Knowledge Synthesis Group, Ottawa Hospital R.I., about his extensive experience with this type of searching. Here are the top tips from these two systematic review experts for efficient full-text reference retrieval:
Tip 1: Avoid buying articles from the publisher
Buying individual articles directly from the publisher is the most costly method of procuring full-text documents. In some cases, it's also the only option. But if you have access to other sources, use them. The more you can limit the number of articles you buy from the publisher, the more money you’ll save in the long run.
Tip 2: Use all the tools at your disposal
Margaret suggests using all the tools in your arsenal to locate articles. This means taking advantage of everything from browser plugins to website memberships and personal contacts - basically anything you can think of.
She also recommends making sure Google Scholar knows what libraries you have privileges with and to use your institution's custom PubMed link if you have one, so you can access the full text more easily. During a comprehensive full-text document search, you must exhaust all your options to obtain the full text, and you might need to get creative!
Bonus Tip: Raymond suggests previewing the retrieval list for non-English journal names to help identify records that may have slipped through the language boundaries of your search.
Tip 3: Take advantage of interlibrary loans
When you can’t find articles yourself, try inquiring about interlibrary loans. In most cases, the articles will be available through this avenue. Margaret recommends working with the library team to find the most efficient way to submit these types of requests.
Tip 4: Conference abstracts are not a dead-end for full text
Although there’s typically no full text document for conference abstracts, you can always reach out to the author for more information about the study. In most cases, they'll be happy to give you more details. Raymond adds that it's essential to preview the retrieval list for conference abstracts since they may well have the "full-text" already reproduced in the abstract field of the bibliographic record.
That said, don’t spend an inordinate amount of time here, since conference abstracts are time-consuming to retrieve and their contribution is often questionable.
Bonus Tip: Raymond sorts retrieval lists by journal name to make it faster to find articles from the same publication. An article with a Medline UI or PMID is easy to locate through the PubMed link from your local institution, and once you are "in" a source for the journal you can search for the Embase (or other) records by title.
Tip 5: Don't worry about unobtainable text
In many large reviews, it's common to see unobtainable studies, which appear relevant. According to Margaret, as long as you have made a reasonable effort to obtain the studies, you’re covered.
Tip 6: Make sure all your materials are obtained legally
If you don't have any institutional connections, you might be tempted to gather as many free and easy-to-access articles as possible for your systematic review. That said, you still need to be mindful of copyright laws. Stealing from publishers or using services that violate intellectual property rights for your systematic review is illegal.
The future of full-text reference searching
Full-text document procurement has long been a pain point for research teams. It's a lengthy step that adds significant time to the systematic review process.
Fortunately, the future of full text procurement is looking brighter every day. Researchers are increasingly able to take advantage of technology innovations to accelerate the search and procurement process. There are numerous software tools that can be used to quickly and easily locate the literature you need, anytime and anywhere.
When it comes to managing costs, one solution to consider is article rental as an alternative to purchasing. If you do need to purchase, there are tools that can ensure you get the literature you need at the lowest possible cost, and will alert you if your organization already owns the article so you don’t pay for the same item twice.
Finding a systematic, reproducible solution to full text procurement and processing is an essential part of limiting the time and money it takes to complete your systematic review. By following these tips, you should be able to cut the time and resources needed to procure full-text articles, making your systematic reviews more efficient in the long run.