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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 firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a consultation.
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.
Yale MESH Analyzer
This tool extracts MeSH and other citation data from PubMed articles to all you to review terms in a grid for relevant articles to help you develop a search strategy for your review. You can analyze a maximum of 20 articles at a time.
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.
Make sure to include all relevant databases when developing your search strategy. Several to consider including are:
- PubMed (MEDLINE)
- ISI Web of Science
- EBM Reviews - Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
Access these databases and others on the Pratt Library Databases page.
Translating your search strategy between databases
The IEBH Systematic Review Accelerator is a suite of tools to speed up steps in the Systematic Review (SR) process. It is freely available for anyone in the world to use. The SRA is a modular design which means the tools can be incorporated into existing SR workflows and combined with other automation tools.
Medline Transpose (beta)
Translate a search query between Ovid MEDLINE and PubMed syntax
A free source code editor that is also helpful for developing search strategies. It helps you ensure your parentheses all match to ensure your boolean logic is correct, and allows for advanced find and replace features using Regular Expressions
which facilitates quickly reformatting search strategy syntax to translate your methodology for different databases.
Bramer, W. M., de Jonge, G. B., Rethlefsen, M. L., Mast, F., & Kleijnen, J. (2018). A systematic approach to searching: an efficient and complete method to develop literature searches. Journal of the Medical Library Association : JMLA, 106(4), 531–541.
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
PRESS Peer Review of Electronic Search Strategies
It is believed that quality is enhanced when there is peer review of the electronic search strategies developed for systematic review (SR) and health technology assessment (HTA) reports. The PRESS Guideline provides a set of recommendations concerning the information that should be used by librarians and other information specialists when they are asked to evaluate these electronic search strategies. This guideline updates and expands upon the 2008 CADTH report PRESS: Peer Review of Electronic Search Strategies, as well as An Evidence Based Checklist for the Peer Review of Electronic Search Strategies (PRESS EBC), published in the Evidence Based Library and Information Practice journal in 2010.
The full guideline statement and checklist document may be accessed via the following open access article from the Journal of Clinical Epidemiology:
McGowan J, Sampson M, Salzwedel DM, Cogo E, Foerster V, Lefebvre C. PRESS Peer Review of Electronic Search Strategies: 2015 guideline statement. J Clin Epidemiol. 2016 Jul;75:40-6.