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Systematic & Scoping Reviews : Methodology Behind the Search Strategies

This guide is primarily for students and other researchers conducting systematic reviews and scoping reviews for coursework, thesis/dissertation requirements, or for other research purposes.

Why Document Your Search?

Because a systematic or scoping review or other knowledge synthesis attempts to be rigorous and unbiased, readers must be able to replicate your searches.

The Cochrane Handbook (Section 6.6.2 Documenting and Reporting the Search Process) states the following:

Reporting the search process in the review abstract

  • List all databases searched as well as interface (e.g. Ovid Medline, EBSCO CINAHL, etc.)
  • Note the dates of the last search for each database or the period searched.
  • Note any language or publication status restrictions (but refer to Section 6.4.9).
  • List individuals or organizations contacted.

 
 Reporting the search process in the Methods section
In the ‘Search methods for identification of studies’ section(s):

  • List all databases searched.
  • Note the dates of the last search for each database AND the period searched.
  • Note any language or publication status restrictions (but refer to Section 6.4.9).
  • List grey literature sources.
  • List individuals or organizations contacted.
  • List any journals and conference proceedings specifically handsearched for the review.
  • List any other sources searched (e.g. reference lists, the internet).

The full search strategies for each database should be included in an Appendix of the review to avoid interrupting the flow of the text of the review. The search strategies should be copied and pasted exactly as run and included in full together with the line numbers for each search set.

 

Cochrane Handbook, Section 6.6.2.2. Reporting the Search Process in the Review

 

Reporting guidelines

Guidelines, including a checklist for all items to include in your review, as well as  a flow diagram reporting the number of studies found, de-duplicated and included in the reviw.
 

Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses: The PRISMA Statement

Guidelines for other types of reviews can be found at the EQUATOR Network


Guidelines for reporting the search strategy (e.g. databases searched, database interfaces, year ranges, grey literature, etc.) are under development: PRISMA-Search (PRISMA-S) Protocol (PDF)

Writing resources

Toolkit: How to write a great research paper using reporting guidelines

  •  toolkit from the Equator Network
  • examples of good reporting, guidelines and more

Guidance on scientific writing

  • guidelines, books, and a free course on biomedical writing
     

Writing a biomedical research paper: a guide to structure and style

  • online book provided from the University of Toronto Libraries

How to write, publish, & present in the health sciences: a guide for clinicians and laboratory researchers

  • print book for researchers new to writing & publishing