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Systematic Reviews

Information on how to conduct systematic reviews in psychology and the health sciences

Creating a Search Strategy

A well constructed search strategy is the core of your systematic review and will be reported on in the methods section of your paper. The search strategy retrieves the majority of the studies you will assess for eligibility & inclusion. The quality of the search strategy also affects what items may have been missed. Informationists can be partners in this process.

Keywords vs. Index Terms

Both types of  search terms are useful & both should be used in your search.

Keywords help to broaden your results.  They will be searched for at least in journal titles, author names, article titles, & article abstracts.  They can also be tagged to search all text.

Index/subject terms help to focus your search appropriately, looking for items that have had a specific term applied by an indexer.

Combining Search Terms Using Boolean Operators

Boolean operators let you combine search terms in specific ways to broaden or narrow your results.

A SR Search Strategy

An example of a search string for one concept in a systematic review.

In this example from a PubMed search, [mh] = MeSH & [tiab] = Title/Abstract, a more focused version of a keyword search.

Search Filters / Inclusion / Exclusion Criteria

A typical database search filter allows you to narrow results so that you retrieve articles that are most relevant to your research question. Filter types vary by database & include:

  • Article/publication type
  • Publication dates
  • Species
  • Language
  • Sex
  • Subject
  • Ages

In a systematic review search, you should use care when applying filters, as you may lose articles inadvertently.  For more information, see, particularly regarding language & format filters.   Cochrane 2008 6.4.9