The first step in identifying studies is searching the most appropriate databases, which is dependent on your research question. You can find a list of databases here, but you should also consult with a librarian to ensure that you don't miss any pertinent databases.
Here are some general guidelines to keep in mind when searching databases:
Building your search strategy should include the following steps:
Feel free to use a search strategy worksheet to start preparing your review. This worksheet helps identify the research question, relevant concepts along with useful synonyms.
In addition, you may want to consult the Library's search syntax translation guide to help you draft your strategy to take full advantage of the features available across different databases.
The Peer Review of Electronic Search Strategies (PRESS) provides a table with practical questions to enable self-review of a draft strategy (usually completed by a librarian). PRESS is an essential step that can help ensure:
A template is also available to help you prepare the peer-review of a search strategy:
Once you have completed searching the databases, it is important to supplement your searching with studies that may not have been included in the databases. Here are some resources where you can locate supplementary materials for your systematic review:
The Fourth International Conference on Grey Literature defined grey literature as "that which is produced on all levels of government, academics, business and industry in print and electronic formats, but which is not controlled by commercial publishers." Here is a sample of resources you may want to consider when searching for grey literature:
In addition, the United States Department of Health and Human Services has a complete list of clinical trial registries from around the world.
We also have access to more theses in the resources listed below:
Search filters can be used to help narrow your search strategy by study design, population, or for specificity or sensitivity.
The list above provides examples, but other filters and resources are also available.
It is important to document your process as you create your systematic review to keep track of decisions made and to ensure that all the correct information is being included in your review. There are reporting standards that can be followed that can act as step-by-step guides.
The following lists provide examples of different reporting standards:
The EQUATOR Network (Enhancing the QUAlity and Transparency Of health Research) has created a comprehensive list of various Reporting Guidelines.
On a more practical level, you can use a spreadsheet to keep track of the searching process and include the following information:
Here is an annotated example of an Excel spreadsheet used to help keep track of searching:
It is best to organize your references in a citation manager, so that they are easily accessible when you need them.
Citation managers allow you to:
The following citation management tools are suggested for systematic reviews:
Installation instructions, directions and additional information can be found on our citation management research guide.