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Copy of Systematic Reviews RD May 24 to consult with Academic Skills: Documenting searches

Documenting and reporting advanced searches

1. Documenting

The search should be documented :

  • To report it correctly in the Review

  • The enable the search to be reproduced

  • To enable others to assess the thoroughness of the search

  • To enable the search to be updated

  • To demonstrate compliance with standards


  • List all the databases searched, including the platform and vendor e.g. Ovid Medline

  • Note the period searched and the date of the last search for each resource

  • Note any restrictions / limits applied e.g. language

  • The full strategy for each database with total hits and set numbers

  • Copy and paste exactly as run

  • If text mining software is used document the software used and the version

Other sources

  • All searches conducted by hand-searching

  • Experts contacted

2. Reporting

  • There are a number of places where searches can be reported. These include the appendix, the review abstract, the methods section, the results section or as supplementary material.

  • Reporting the date of the search – the last date the search was conducted.

CASP checklist for systematic reviews

CASP ( Critical Appraisal Skills Programme) illustrates what people will be looking for when they come to appraise your review.

Guides to documenting & reporting the search process

Cochrane Handbook For Systematic Reviews of Interventions, 2011  (Section 6.6)
"The search process 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 ll the searches of all the databases are reproducible"

It is advisable to use the PRISMA 2009 flow diagram for further documentation of the number of records identified by database searching and through other sources.

Here's a useful app for creating the PRISMA flow diagram: