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Documenting Literature Searches for Systematic Reviews


This guide gives you information and background on how to document your literature search(es) when you are starting a Systematic Review.

Contact an OUWB Medical Library if you have questions or need assistance.  

  Call:  (248) 370-3772
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Documenting Your Literature Searches - Rationale

•    Literature searches for Systematic Reviews can be quite extensive and may be run multiple times over a period of several months.  
•    It is important to document your search strategy/strategies to increase the transparency and the reproducibility of your searches.
•    The documentation should include enough detail so that it can be accurately reported and can be replicated for verification.
•    The team should develop a system to document the necessary information for each of the literature searches.  It is mandatory that the documentation should be done at the time of each database search.
•    Depending upon the journal, one or all search strategies may need to be included in the Appendix of any manuscript submitted for publication.

Documenting Your Literature Searches – Information Needed

•    Database Name 
•    Database Vendor / Platform (e.g., Ovid or EBSCO)
•    Date the Literature Search was Conducted 
•    Years Covered
•    Filters / Limitations Applied (and Justifications)
•    Complete Search Strategy (copy and paste exactly how it was run)
•    Number of Results Retrieved from Each Database
•    Total Number of Records Retrieved
•    Duplicate Records Identified and Software Used (if applicable) **
•    Number of Records Screened / Number of Records Excluded **
•    Keep a log of excluded studies with the reason for exclusion
•    Date the Literature Search was Updated (if applicable)
•    Peer Review Process (who reviewed the strategies and results)
•    If needed, set up alerts or automatic updates using your search strategy so that you are notified of any new articles relevant to your project (e.g., PubMed / Create Alert)

** NOTE:  This information is recorded if using Covidence for screening.

Helpful Hints

•    Start documenting your searches and search terms from day one and continue each time you work on a literature search through to the end of your project.
•    All the team members and collaborators should be involved in documenting the literature searches.  
•    Be as specific as possible when documenting your searches.
•    Keep as much information as needed in order to reproduce your searches.
•    Create an account in each of the databases you search to make it easier to save the strategies and searches within that database.
•    Keep one single document which all team members have access to.  
•    Do not delete anything from the document, but rather strike through anything which is no longer valid or needed.  
•    Develop a file naming convention which easily identifies the database used and the date searched.  Use a standardized nomenclature for dates, such as YYYY-MM-DD.
•    Keep backups and multiple copies of your documents, and backup at least once a week.

Resources for Documenting Search Results

Sources for Literature Searching