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Systematic Reviews: Developing a Search Strategy

Developing a Systematic Review Search Strategy

The search strategy is the core methodology of a systematic review and must be carefully developed, tested, and documented to ensure that your review finds all relevant evidence.  

Consulting with a Librarian

Pratt Library Support for Systematic Reviews

Pratt Librarians offer individualized appointments with Systematic Review teams to discuss project feasibility and provide guidance and advice on the process. Team members will complete all parts of the Systematic Review and the librarian will provide advice and guidance on the search and other aspects of the Systematic Review process. We will ask to be recognized in the acknowledgements for our contributions. 

Please email prattlibrary@cchmc.org to schedule a consultation.

Term Harvesting

Identify "gold standard" articles [GSA] (3-10 minimum) to use to identify some potential search terms and also to double check that your search strategy is locating the articles you know should be found in your results. If these articles are missing you should ensure they meet your inclusion/exclusion criteria and then edit your search strategy to ensure that it is comprehensive enough.

Development of a Search Strategy

This sixth article in the series ‘Tips and tricks for understanding and using SR results’ is, like the previous ones, aimed at helping the readers to understand the results of systematic reviews and to use these results in clinical practice. Earlier articles in the Tips and Tricks section of this journal have addressed the sources of evidence, i.e. the bibliographic databases where primary studies for a Cochrane systematic review may be identified. This article will focus on how reviewers actually search an electronic bibliographic database for studies to go into Cochrane systematic reviews. The information summarized in this article is based on earlier papers, the Cochrane Handbookand the authors' experience in evidence‐based medicine and searching medical databases (1–9). Copyright © 2007 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Databases

Make sure to include all relevant databases when developing your search strategy.  Several to consider including are:

  • PubMed (MEDLINE)
  • CINAHL
  • Embase
  • PsycINFO
  • ISI Web of Science
  • Scopus
  • EBM Reviews - Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews

Access these databases and others on the Pratt Library Databases page.

Translating your search strategy between databases

Search Strategy Methodology Documentation

Carefully documenting your search strategy is a critical part of reporting your systematic review methodology. It must be clearly stated, replicable, and dated.  Best practice is to document the strategy for each database you search even if only one representative example is published in your final manuscript (typically as a supplement).

Peer Review of Search Strategies