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Systematic Reviews

Documenting the Search Process

Systematic review searches must be documented in sufficient detail to allow others to be able to assess the thoroughness of the search. You will need to keep track of:

  • Each database searched, together with the platform searched via (eg. EBSCO Medline, PsycINFO, SCOPUS)
  • The date each search was conducted
  • Subject headings and keywords used - including whether terms were exploded, truncated, etc
  • Search history, including the combination of terms
  • Number of results retrieved for each search and combination
  • Total number of records 
  • Duplicates identified
  • Numbers pre-screening and post-screening

In addition, all searches conducted via handsearching must identify the source (name of journal, conference proceedings, etc), plus the years.

This example search template may help you record your searches.

Guides to Documenting the Search Process

Section 4.5 - Documenting and reporting the search process

"The search process (including the sources searched, when, by whom, and using which terms) needs to be documented in enough detail throughout the process to ensure that it can be reported correctly in the review, to the extent that all the searches of all the databases are reproducible." (Cochrane Handbook, Version 6.2 2021)

PRISMA stands for Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses. It is an evidence-based minimum set of items for reporting in systematic reviews and meta-analyses.

The PRISMA Statement consists of a 27-item checklist and a four-phase flow diagram. It is an evolving document that is subject to change periodically as new evidence emerges. In fact, the PRISMA Statement is an update and expansion of the now-out dated QUOROM Statement. This website contains the current definitive version of the PRISMA Statement.

The following tools may help you record your data in the checklist and flow diagram: