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Searching for Alternatives

Searching for Alternatives

Searching skills are important

Searching is a key skill for all researchers. Searching helps stay up‐to‐date on the research landscape and supports evidence‐informed decision making.

Searching can be used to form a research question or identify research models or techniques.

Search results can provide an evidence-base to justify a hypothesis or methodology, or show the potential value of a specific research question, all of which may be needed for funding or publication purposes.

Where animals may be involved searches can help avoid or replace animal use, or lead to improvements in animal welfare. They can also prevent unnecessary duplication of studies, improve experimental design, and ensure that existing and new alternative methods are used as widely as possible.

Here we provide information on:

  • 3Rs related searching to identify opportunities for replacement, reduction or refinement within a project
  • ‘Thinking Differently’ in order to identify replacement opportunities


3Rs searches

Where animal research is likely researchers should be conducting searches to cover all elements of the 3Rs (Replacement, Reduction and Refinement). This is essential for ethical and scientific reasons, it is also a legal requirement within the frameworks that regulate animal research in the UK and EU.

There are many 3Rs resources and databases out there that can support this. Norecopa signposts a large number of these and the EU Commission provides various resources and searching guidance.

Not all replacement opportunities will be flagged as ‘replacement’ and this must be taken into account. Techniques, methods and knowledge exist outside of the 3Rs field that can help replace animal use, it is therefore important for researchers to also assess replacement opportunities in mainstream databases and resources, without using a ‘3Rs’ or ‘replacement’ tag. Replacement is best addressed in the initial stages of defining a research question. Our Thinking Differently resources and information below can help achieve this.


To help scientists effectively find and make use of the 3Rs, we have put together some resources on the basic principles of searching for 3Rs information below. It assumes no previous knowledge of search techniques or of the facilities available for obtaining information from the internet. It acts as a starting point for scientists, giving advice on terminology, correct strategies and available resources for efficiently conducting internet-based searches. When further in-depth or specific guidance is available, this is highlighted and links are provided.

Thinking Differently

FRAME is working on the production of resources to help researchers think differently about the construction of their research questions and identification of research models or methods to help avoid animal use. This is particularly pertinent in scientific fields where animal ‘models’ have been, and still are commonly used. Science builds on previous studies and knowledge, it can therefore be challenging to think outside the box or go against the status quo, particularly when facing pressure from managers, funders and publishers to tread the ‘well-worn’ path… But it is possible.

The video below is a recording of a webinar produced in 2023 for the Alliance Exchange webinar series organised for the Alliance for Human Relevant Science. In it our Research Manager Juliet discusses the plans we have to support researchers and other stakeholders to think differently.

If you would like to contact us about our Thinking Differently work please email

Conducting a search for alternatives

This guide focuses on the basic principles applying to the construction of search filters for use on internet search engines or on any online database. It includes general considerations relating to the choice of search terms and to the use of operators to define the links between the terms. The guide also includes advice on performing a literature search in bibliographical databases, with much of the information also applicable to internet searches.

Conducting a search for alternatives

Additional resources

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