Skip to main content

Systematic Reviews: Home

Searching to Support a Systematic Review

Searching as part of a Systematic Review (SR) is a somewhat different process than searching as part of a literature review or for a case study, but there are structured flow charts and checklists to help you work through the process. There are many other aspects of a SR, but this guide is just focused on searching and finding literature. 

Preparing Your Search

Before you start searching, you need to articulate several things so that you don't miss relevant studies, duplicate an existing SR, or collect biased results.

Step 1: Define your question.

  • PICO format
  • Avoid scope creep

Step 2: Check if there's already a recent SR on your question.

Step 3: Formulate your search strategy and inclusion/exclusion criteria.

  • Databases you'll search
  • Type(s) of studies
  • Time period
  • Language
  • Publication type (Journals, grey literature, etc.)
  • Geographic considerations

Step 4: Dress rehearsal search.

  • Select a database to use
  • Identify potential search terms (not every term will be in every article)
  • Apply exclusion criteria (some you'll apply manually)
  • Decide on the search terms and databases you'll use for your SR

Tip: If you've found too few results, try another database, a citation search or look at the methods section of a related SR.
Tip: If you've found too many results, add further limits (population, intervention, etc.)

Step 5: Document the search strategy.

  • Start tracking your sources, search terms, limits and any other methods you've used to find literature
  • Search history
  • Number of results
  • Duplicate results

Step 6: Logistics

  • Pick a way to share/store files
  • Pick a citation software (Zotero, Mendeley, etc.)


As You Search

These are a few search strategies for as you start your process:

  • Start with the best database (often Medline or CINAHL).
  • Combine keywords and subject terms to expand your search results on a topic.
  • Keep track of which results come from which search.
  • Search one database at a time.
  • Conduct citation searches on each article.
  • Remember that everyone in your group will have a chance to evaluate the articles for inclusion/exclusion.
  • Write and save your citations as you go!

Databases for Studies and Reviews