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Reviews: From Systematic to Narrative: Developing and Documenting Your Search Strategy

Documenting the Search Strategy

Your search strategy and/or the search process needs to be documented.  In order for others to have confidence that your search used the appropriate terms in the appropriate databases, your documentation needs to be in enough detail to ensure that it can be reproduced for verification.  The Cochrane reviewers recommend the following seven (7) elements:

1.  Databases searched

2.  Name of host/database vendor/system; i.e., search engine

3.  Date the search was performed

4.  Years covered by the search

5.  Complete search strategy for each database searched, including Limits not enumerated elsewhere, whether the term was major, minor, key-word, etc.

6.  One or two sentence summary of the search strategy

7.  Language restrictions

The Basic Steps of Developing a Search Strategy

A systematic review search is traditionally a comprehensive search whose goal is to collect ALL available evidence, whether it be in the published, peer-reviewed and indexed journal literature or in the grey literature, outside the regular publishing sphere.  The following steps are a guide to assist you in developing a search strategy that will be both conducive to identifying those studies to be included in your review and enable you to clearly document your search strategy and results for publication.

1.  Clearly define the topic.  Using the PICO framework can help formulate the question and search strategy

      P = patient population

      I = intervention (therapy, diagnostic test, etc.)

      C = comparison (other specific intervention or gold standard or standard of care)

      O = outcomes

2.   Identify the key concepts, including synonyms, variant spellings; alternative terms

      ( A good source for this in the Thesaurus or Index of PUBMED or CINAHL.  Even if your concept is not an "official" term in the database, you might be able to get suggestions for terms and phrases that will work.)

3.   Search each concept separately.  That way you can mix and match if you get zero results using all concepts in a single search statement.

4.   Combine concepts or concept sets with the correct Boolean connectors (AND, OR, NOT)

 5.   Apply appropriate limits at the end (language, gender, age, language, date range, study design, publication type, etc.)


Use this link to go to a LHL Guide that will help you to develop your search strategy.

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