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Systematic and Systematic-like Reviews

Document your search strategy

You will need to carefully record your search strategy to ensure it is reproducible and verifiable, especially for publication.

How? For each search record:

  • the name of the database,
  • the years covered,
  • the date you searched,
  • your exact search strategy, including all the terms you have used and
  • Number and kinds of studies selected (quantitative/qualitative).

One way to record your searches is to save the search history from each database. To do this you will need to create an account with the database provider - select My Account (in Ovid databases), Sign In (EBSCOhost or Proquest) or Register (Web of Science).

Here's an example of a saved search: Date: 19 October, 2023. Database: Ovid MEDLINE 2014 to Present;

   Search Terms Results
1. (aged or elderly or frail).ti,ab 211004
2. exp Health Services for the Aged/ or exp Homes for the Aged/ or exp Nursing Homes/ or exp Geriatric Nursing/ or exp Aged 486102
3.  1 OR 2 605593
4. cranberr*.ti,ab 367
5. Vaccinium macrocarpon/ 232
6. 4 OR 5 378
7. (uti or "urinary tract infection*").ti,ab 8752
8. Urinary Tract Infections/ 5261
9.  7 OR 8 9626
10. 3 AND 6 AND 9 18
  ti,ab = Title or Abstract       / = MeSH term      exp = exploded MeSH term  

This can also be expressed in a linear way:

((aged OR elderly OR frail).ti.ab.OR exp Health Services for the Aged/ OR exp Homes for the Aged/ OR exp Nursing Homes/ OR exp Geriatric Nursing/ OR exp Aged) AND (cranberr*.ti, ab. OR Vaccinium macrocarpon/) AND ((uti OR "urinary tract infection*").ti, ab. OR Urinary Tract Infections/)

  • You will most likely have to go back and refine your searches as new terms and subject headings present themselves as you go on.
  • And then you will need to translate your search into other databases,taking into account the unique language of each database - what symbols are used for truncation, wildcards, and so on, and the thesauri terms if applicable.
  • You should apply your main limits at the end of your search (language, date of publication, publication type).

Resources that might help you documenting your search(es):

  • You may be required to follow the PRISMA for Searching checklist or to record your search results on a PRISMA Flow Diagram.
  • The Cochrane Library has a handy Database Syntax Guide which summarises the particular languages of the major databases and platforms.
  • For some great examples of how to record your search framework and search strategy across various disciplines and databases, see  Foster, M. J., & Jewell, S. T. (2017). Identifying the studies: Case studies. In M. J. Foster & S. T. Jewell (Eds.), Assembling the pieces of a systematic review: A guide for librarians (pp. 99-123). Rowman & Littlefield. And Levay, P., Craven, J., & Barrett, E. (2022). Case studies. In S. T. Jewell & M. J. Foster (Eds.), Piecing together systematic reviews and other evidence synthesis (pp.143-70). Rowman & Littlefield. Highly recommended! 

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