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Systematic and Systematic-like Reviews

Searching in databases

Your choice of databases to search in will depend on the subject field and the specific research question.

Search only in the most relevant and comprehensive databases in your field, and use individual databases, rather than packages of databases. It is best practice to use thesaurus terms wherever they are are available, as well as keywords.

See below for suggestions by discipline area. See also the Library's A-Z database list, where you can browse by subject/discipline area. Remember also that you may need to go outside your normal subject area. For example, if you're looking at the psychological aspects of paramedicine, consider a psychology database as well as a health database.

How many databases do you need to search? Definitely search more than one: three to four are considered necessary for an exhaustive review.

   Allied Health, Medicine, Nursing

  • Ovid MEDLINE OR PubMed - for biomedical and health literature. There’s no need to search both, as they are very similar. MEDLINE is a subscription resource; PubMed is available free.   
  • CINAHL Plus with Full Text - an EBSCOhost database of nursing and allied health literature
  • Emcare - an Ovid database of nursing and allied health literature
  • JBI EBP Database - resources in evidence-based healthcare
  • OTseeker - evidence-based material for occupational therapy
  • PEDro - evidence-based material for physiotherapy
  • speechBITE - evidence-based material for speech pathology
  • SPORTDiscus with Full Text (EBSCOhost) - sports science, physical education, etc.



   Environmental Science

Psychology and Social Sciences



See the Library's Database Help Guide for help with searching in databases, or contact your Library faculty team:


Note: EBSCOhost databases now have a facility for exporting up to 25,000 citations at once into EndNote. See Exporting large numbers of records from EBSCO databases to EndNote.

Other places to search


According to the MeSH scope note, a clinical trial is "a work that reports on the results of a clinical study in which participants are assigned to receive one or more interventions so that researchers can evaluate the interventions on biomedical or health-related outcomes".

You can find clinical trials in databases, but there are also specific resources where you can find clinical trials, in some cases before they are published in journals:


Citation databases are multidisciplinary, and their citation searching functions allow for "pearling" - trawling through citations and "cited by" articles to pick up some extra articles that may have been missed in your database searching. You can do this by doing a rough search to get started, or plug in one of your "gold" articles and see what you find. The two main citation databases are: 


Grey literature is research that has not been published commercially and therefore might not be available in the usual databases and journal collections.

Examples of grey literature include government reports, conference proceedings, theses, policy documents, and clinical trials (as above). Note that grey literature is not necessarily peer-reviewed, and should be evaluated carefully.

The Library's Grey Literature guide has more information, including how to find and evaluate grey literature, and some useful sources in various subject areas.


A full systematic review may require even more thorough searching, including:

  • Reviewing the contents of the major journals and conference proceedings in your subject area page by page ("hand searching")
  • Contacting authors of key studies, or known experts in the field
  • Checking through the reference lists of key articles.

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