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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 and your exact search strategy, including all the terms you have used.

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: 11 September, 2018. Database: Ovid MEDLINE 1946 to August Week 5 2018;

   Search Terms
1. (aged or elderly or frail).ti,ab
2. exp Health Services for the Aged/ or exp Homes for the Aged/ or exp Nursing Homes/ or exp Geriatric Nursing/ or exp Aged
3.  1 OR 2
4. cranberr*.ti,ab
5. Vaccinium macrocarpon/
6. 4 OR 5
7. (uti or "urinary tract infection*").ti,ab
8. Urinary Tract Infections/
9.  7 OR 8
10. 3 AND 6 AND 9
  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. Highly recommended!

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