• Form a clear hypothesis, with primary and secondary outcomes.
  • Consider the use of systematic reviews.
  • Decide upon databases and information specialists to be consulted, and construct search terms.
  • Assess the relevance of the species to be used, its biology and suitability to answer the experimental questions with the least suffering, and its welfare needs.
  • Assess the reproducibility and translatability of the project.


Many more links to specific guidance on literature searching, databases and systematic reviews are available in a separate section of this website.

The first stage in planning research which may involve the use of animals or animal tissue is to search the literature for possible non-animal alternatives, or ways in which to refine and reduce the use of animals in experiments for which there currently are no alternatives. This is a legal requirement in many countries - the EU Directive 2010/63 states clearly that the final goal is 'full replacement of procedures on live animals for scientific and educational purposes as soon as it is scientifically possible to do so' (recital 10). A thorough literature search will also help to prevent unnecessary repetition of animal studies.

A systematic review of the literature may be indicated. Such reviews can be used not only to determine the need for more studies, but also for "synthesis of evidence": drawing new conclusions from already published data. 'Towards Evidence-Based Research'.

Literature searches should be well documented, including information on:

  1. The databases and other sources used, and dates of access
  2. The keywords and search components used
  3. The information centres consulted
  4. Evidence that the animal studies have not been performed previously, or that repetition is justified
  5. Consultation of relevant guidelines for specific parts of the study
  6. The justification for the choice of species and (where applicable) the strain
  7. Evaluation of the biology, behaviour and welfare needs of the species to be used
  8. The likelihood of reproducibility of the studies in another location. This is particularly important in experiments on aquatic organisms, where local variations in water chemistry may be crucial
  9. The likelihood, if relevant, of translatability to other species


If possible, use databases which generate unique URLs (web addresses) every time a search is performed, such as here on the Norecopa website. This facilitates repetition, documentation and evaluation of the search.

A 6 Step Checklist for Responsible Research gives a useful summary of the overarching principles to be applied when conducting any type of biomedical research (produced by Responsible Research in Practice).

There are many other guidelines for planning parts of animal experiments, and for reporting studies. We recommend use of Norecopa's search engine in addition to the resources mentioned under the 15 topics of the PREPARE guidelines. 

More resources

This page was updated on 09 October 2020

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