Literature Search for Alternatives Worksheet

step-by-step approach to an alternatives search

Facilitates compliance with
USDA/APHIS/AC Policy 12 - Consideration of Alternatives to Painful/Distressful Procedures

This worksheet is designed to assist researchers with their literature searches, while facilitating compliance with regulatory agencies. The search should identify any alternatives to potentially painful or distressful procedures, while also assuring that the protocol does not unnecessarily duplicate previous research.

The US Animal Welfare Act ( (AWA) regulations (specifically the 1985 Amendment (, require the principal investigators to consider alternatives to procedures that may cause more than momentary or slight pain or distress to the animals, and provide a written narrative of the methods used and sources consulted to determine the availability of alternatives, including refinements, reductions, and replacements.

The search for alternatives refers to the three Rs described in the book, The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique ( (1959) by Russell and Burch. The 3Rs are reduction in the number of animals used, refinement of techniques and procedures to reduce pain or distress, and replacement of animals with non-animal techniques or use of less-sentient species.

3Rs (

Refinement (
The use of analgesics and analgesia, the use of remote telemetry to increase the quality and quantity of data gathered, and humane endpoints for the animals are examples of refinements.
Reduction (
The use of shared control groups, preliminary screening in non-animal systems, innovative statistical packages or a consultation with a statistician are examples of reduction alternatives.
Replacement (
Alternatives such as in vitro, cell culture, tissue culture, models, simulations, etc. are examples of replacement. This is also where you might look for any alternate animal models lower on the phylogenetic scale (fish or invertebrates, for example), that would still give you the data you need.

Before you begin your search:

  • Consider other possible animal or non-animal models (e.g., tissue culture, cell culture, fish, rats, etc.) more info
  • Consider your objectives and endpoints. more info
  • Note any drugs or compounds used in procedures. (e.g., anesthetics, analgesics, test compounds, etc.) more info
  • Note methods and procedures using animals, paying particular attention to those procedures that may cause pain or distress to the animal. more info
  • List any potential alternatives (all 3 Rs) of which you are aware. (e.g., alternate models, modified techniques, housing modifications, modified restraint, in vitro methods, computer simulations, etc.) more info
  • Develop a conceptual search strategy using the keywords and concepts you noted above. A search strategy is necessarily flexible, dependent both on the topic and on the database selected. If too many records are retrieved, additional relevant terms may make the results fewer and more useful; if too little is retrieved, fewer terms and a more conceptual approach may identify the relevant material. Use these terms and concepts as needed when searching in the following databases. more info
  • Database selection: Choose those that are appropriate for the area of study, keeping in mind type of protocol:
    Is the proposed study a research, teaching, or testing protocol? more info


Free Bibliographic Resources




Proprietary Bibliographic Databases, check with your library for availability



  • ERIC (, more info
  • CAB (, more info
  • Zoological Record ( , more info


Free Governmental, Regulatory and Organizational Databases



Other resources, databases, and websites may be useful. The Animal Welfare Act regulations and policies allow for researchers to describe other methods and sources used to determine the availability of alternatives, though this should be secondary to the literature search.

For your protocol:

  • Note names of databases searched and years covered by the search. (example: PubMed, 1966-2005) more info
  • Note the date(s) on which you searched.
  • Describe what alternatives-related information you found, how you are integrating those alternative methods, procedures, or models into your protocol, as well as why you are not using others. This is sometimes referred to as the "narrative" or "search results" section. more info

Supporting information on Searching and Databases available.

For additional information or assistance:

AltWeb (
Alternatives news, information, and resources
Sample searches, methods and guidelines, training and education, databases, organizations, and other resources that can assist in understanding alternatives, finding alternatives and completing the alternatives search.
UCDavis Center for Animal Alternatives Information
Assistance with the search for alternatives,

Other resources:

USDA/APHIS/AnimalCare (
Animal Care Policy Manual (
Policy #11 ( — Painful Procedures
Policy #12 ( — Consideration of Alternatives to Painful/Distressful Procedures
Alternatives and the AWA Brochure ( – AWIC
Alternatives Search Tip Sheet ( – NIH Library
The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique ( by Russell and Burch