Step One - Documenting searches
When you are conducting your searches, keep track of what you are doing by documenting your search process in enough detail to ensure that it can be reported correctly in the review.
Documentation of your search strategy should include:
Step Two - Reporting searches
There are a numer of places where searches can be reported. These include the appendix, the review abstract, the methods section or the results section. Below are some examples that show these different models:
It is advisable to use the PRISMA 2009 flow diagram for further documentation of the number of records identified by database searching and through other sources. The flow diagram depicts the flow of information through the different phases of a systematic review. It maps out the number of records identified, included and excluded, and the reasons for exclusions. Instead of filling in a manual form you can now use the PRISMA Diagram Generator to report on the results of a search for a systematic review.
A useful reporting tool for qualitative studies is STARLITE.
While you are conducting your search, you will find it much easier to manage your search results using bibliographic software such as EndNote. With EndNote, you can
The Library offers hands on sessions on EndNote for both beginners and experienced users. Click on Curtin Library Workshops & Tours on this Bookings web page.
Aim of the search
The overarching objective of a systematic review search for evidence is to identify all the studies (and all the relevant data from the studies) that pertain to the research question.
Your search plan will be a brief summary of the topic of the study, a summary of inclusion and exclusion criteria, a list of the appropriate publications, sources and methods that you will use for identifying materials and a list of concepts related to your topic. Your search strategy will put into operation the decisions you have made in your search plan.
Begin devising your search strategy by using the PICO for quantitative research and PICo for qualitative research and ensure that the research question has been translated into search concepts.
NOTE: It may be useful to work with a librarian who has experience in a wide range of bibliographic databases and electronic information sources to plan your search strategy.
The aim of the search strategy is to maximise the retrieval of relevant documents and minimise the retrieval of non-relevant material. It is necessary to strike a balance between achieving comprehensiveness and maintaining relevance when developing a search strategy. Increasing the comprehensiveness (or sensitivity) of a search will reduce its precision and will retrieve more non-relevant articles.
Sensitivity is the ability to identify all the relevant studies. Specificity is the ability to exlude irrelevant studies. There is an inverse relationship between sensitivity and specificity i.e. high sensitivity will tend to have low specificity, and this means that a large number of articles retrieved are not relevant to the review question.
Inappropriate or indadequate search strategies may fail to identify records that are included in bibliographic databases.
2. Search tips
Use "Boolean" logic to express relationships between search terms.
·Boolean logic involves joining synonyms or associated concepts with "OR" (e.g. backache OR back pain whereas intersecting concepts are joined with "AND" (e.g. diabetes AND pregnancy)
·Be aware of spelling variants or abbreviations that may be used by authors.
·The wild card (?) is useful for retrieving documents with British and American word variants e.g. color and colo?r
·Truncation symbol * is often useful. For example infection* retrieves both infection and infections
·Each database has its own unique set of commands and information about these will be on the database help pages. For example many databases use the truncation symbol *while some use $.
·A search strategy should include both indexing terms (if the database has a thesaurus or controlled vocabulary e.g. Medical Subject Heading or MeSH) and 'free text terms' and synonyms (from the database record's title and abstract). For example when searching Medline for studies about Panadol, the 'free text term paracetamol as well as the MeSH term acetaminophen should be used
·Identifying appropriate indexing terms can be done by searching for key papers and checking how they have been indexed a well as scanning the thesaurus for relevant terms
·Too many different search conepts should be avoided. However, it is advisable to combine a wide variety of synonyms with OR within each concept
Restrictions are not advisable for:
4. Revising your search strategy
5. When to stop searching
There comes a point where the rewards of further searching may not be worth the the effort needed to capture additional references. The call to abort further searching depends on the question a review addresses and the resources that are available. A thorough review of some high quality studies is generally preferable to a less discriminate probe for dubious items.
What is a custom built filter?
Search filters ("hedges") are search strategies that have been devised and tested to filter the results of your search from large, general purpose databases including MEDLINE, EMBASE, and PsycINFO. These filters will improve the retrieval of scientifically sound and clinically relevant study reports, covering:
Where are these filters available?
In PubMed, go to Clinical Queries, enter your search term and your results will be automatically categorised into Clinical Study Categories, Systematic Reviews and Medical Genetics.
In Medline (Ovid), use the Additional Limits feature and then choose any of the nine categories in the Clinical Queries limit.