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Taubman Library Talks

The home for videos and webinars created by Informationists at the Taubman Health Sciences Library

Language matters: Handling tough terms in systematic searching [February 29, 2024, 1-2:30pm EST]

Please note that this webinar will include discussions about terms that may be uncomfortable or offensive, and their context within the health sciences and systematic searching. Taubman Library Talks recognizes the potential for harm in using these terms, particularly for members of minoritized, stigmatized, and/or historically excluded groups. The discussion about and use of offensive terminology in searches is not meant to legitimize them in any way.

Webinar link:

Date & Time: Thursday February 29 2024, 1-2:30pm EST (Detroit/Michigan) Time

Registration: No registration required

Accessibility: Live CART captioning; transcript available with recording. Please contact Whitney Townsend ( to discuss additional accommodations by February 26, 2024.

Recorded: Yes, a full transcript and recording is available at the bottom of this page.

Files: .pptx slide download | .pdf slide download | via Google Drive 

Hosts: Mark MacEachern & Whitney Townsend (Informationists, University of Michigan)


Language matters: Handling tough terms in systematic searching
Due to the nature of their topics, some searches must include antiquated, non-standard, exclusionary, and offensive terms in order to identify all published literature on the topic. This is particularly true of searches supporting evidence syntheses, where a robust and sensitive search is critical to the validity of the review.

While many individuals and groups are invested in the critically important work of changing indexing practices and terms across disciplines, systematic searches must still include the language used in the published literature throughout the years and in different research communities. Review teams, editors, and readers may question the inclusion of these terms, especially exclusionary and offensive terms, because of their potential to cause harm and trauma.

In this webinar, Taubman Library Talks co-hosts Mark MacEachern and Whitney Townsend bring together a panel of expert searchers to discuss their experiences handling "tough terms" and emerging language in health sciences systematic searching. The panel will share valuable resources and practical strategies for deciding when to include or exclude problematic terms, talking with the project team, knowing your limits and biases, and responsible search reporting.


  • Kate Saylor (U-M) and Robin Parker (Dalhousie U), LGBTQIA+ search filter (in development by MLA LGBTQIA+ Caucus)
  • Rebecca Orozco (United States Air Force Academy) and Ruby Nugent (National Jewish Health), from MLA Hispanic/Latinx Caucus hedge validation project
  • LaTeesa James (U-M) and PF Anderson (U-M), Disabilities filter (in development)
  • Dorice Vieira (NYU Langone), extensive work on expert searching for Black/African American diaspora, including development of search filters

Selected Relevant Links

How-to for Tough Terms

There is no easy formula for when to include or exclude tough terms in systematic searching. While we aim to strike a balance between comprehensiveness and potential harm, it is often easier said than done when working on real projects with real teams.

If you're working on a search with the potential for problematic terminology (tough terms), keep critical thinking and openness at the forefront of your mind and your search development process. Do your research on concepts and terms; consult appropriately with team members, experts, and community members; and acknowledge your use of problematic terms if they are included in your searches.

The videos linked below demonstrate some practical strategies to aid in decision-making when including (or excluding) tough terms in systematic searches. They are not meant to address all of the nuances of tough terms in systematic searching, but can serve as a starting point for some common questions. Please note, some of the videos include potentially problematic terms in their examples and demonstrations.

Language matters: Handling tough terms in systematic searching - Recording & Chat Transcript

This recording is 1 hour and 25 minutes long and includes a closed caption option and a rolling, searchable, downloadable transcript.

  • For easier viewing of small images, use the double diagonal arrow icon to expand the viewer.
  • If you are unable to view the video due to website or software restrictions at your institution, please contact Whitney Townsend (