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Systematic and Systematic-like Reviews

Step 3: Conduct systematic searches

Conducting systematic searches involves: 

3.1 Developing a search strategy

3.2 Thinking about text mining and search filters (if you're doing a full review)

3.3 Deciding where to search and searching

3.4 Documenting your search strategy

3.5 Reviewing and updating your search

Searching is a critical part of conducting the systematic review as it provides the evidence base for your research. Incomplete searches leave you open to biased results. If you are doing a full systematic review, your search strategy needs to be:

  • COMPREHENSIVE AND UNBIASED - This means you need to search across a number of databases and grey literature sources, and consider hand-searching bibliographies and key journals to ensure you have found as many studies as possible.
  • CLEAR AND REPRODUCIBLE - Which means you will need to document the terms you are using, how you combine them and where and when you have searched so that others can update and evaluate your review.

Yale University Library has some really useful videos about systematically searching the literature: Systematic Searches.

Checking for an existing systematic review

Before you start searching for studies to support your review, it's a good idea to make sure that a review doesn't already exist on your topic, or that a protocol hasn't already been registered. You might find that your subject has been covered, but needs updating. Here are some places to check:

   Healthcare Research

  • Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (and protocols)
  • JBI EBP Database - includes a limiter for  Publication Type > Systematic Reviews 
  • OTseeker - occupational therapy database with a limiter for Method > Systematic Review 
  • PEDro - physiotherapy database with a limiter for Method > systematic review
  • PROSPERO - an international database of prospectively registered systematic reviews protocols in health and social care
  • speechBITE - speech pathology database with a limiter for Research Design > Systematic Review
  • PDQ Evidence - SRs on health systems and population health
  • CINAHL Plus with Full Text - you can limit to Publication Type > Systematic Review
  • MEDLINE and PubMed - MEDLINE has various limiters around systematic reviews; PubMed has a limiter for Article Type > Systematic Review
  • PsycINFO - has an additional limiter for Methodology > Systematic Review
  • Trip - a clinical search engine from the UK which includes many systematic reviews in this free version.

   Other disciplines

  • VetSRev - free online database of systematic reviews in veterinary medicine and science (University of Nottingham)
  • Campbell Collaboration - includes a database of systematic reviews related to education, criminal justice and social welfare
  • EPPI Centre systematic reviews - on subjects such as education, health promotion, public health, social welfare, and international development.

Charles Sturt University acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands on which its campuses are located, paying respect to Elders, both past and present, and extend that respect to all First Nations Peoples.

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