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What is lost when searching only one literature database for articles relevant to injury prevention and safety promotion?
  1. D W Lawrence
  1. Karolinska Institutet, Department of Public Health Sciences, Division of International Health (IHCAR), Injuries’ Social Aetiology and Consequences Group, Stockholm, Sweden
  1. David W Lawrence, Center for Injury Prevention Policy & Practice, San Diego State University, PO Box 15817, San Diego, CA 92175, USA; david.lawrence{at}


Objective: To assess what is lost if only one literature database is searched for articles relevant to injury prevention and safety promotion (IPSP) topics.

Method: Serial textword (keyword, free-text) searches using multiple synonym terms for five key IPSP topics (bicycle-related brain injuries, ethanol-impaired driving, house fires, road rage, and suicidal behaviors among adolescents) were conducted in four of the bibliographic databases that are most used by IPSP professionals: EMBASE, MEDLINE, PsycINFO, and Web of Science. Through a systematic procedure, an inventory of articles on each topic in each database was conducted to identify the total unduplicated count of all articles on each topic, the number of articles unique to each database, and the articles available if only one database is searched.

Results: No single database included all of the relevant articles on any topic, and the database with the broadest coverage differed by topic. A search of only one literature database will return 16.7–81.5% (median 43.4%) of the available articles on any of five key IPSP topics. Each database contributed unique articles to the total bibliography for each topic.

Conclusion: A literature search performed in only one database will, on average, lead to a loss of more than half of the available literature on a topic.

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  • Competing interests: DL is the editor of SafetyLit. SafetyLit is currently supported through contracts with several government agencies of the State of California, USA. This research, however, was self-supported. It was not supported by those government contracts. The SafetyLit electronic mailing list and website contain no advertising. SafetyLit is a free service.