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Systematic Reviews

A guide to conducting systematic reviews at the University of the Sunshine Coast

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.  Web of Knowledge Medline; PsycINFO; Web of Science)
  • 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.

It is common use a flow-chart or similar diagram to illustrate this process. This can be generated using the PRISMA flow diagram available from the box below.

Guides to Documenting the Search Process

Cochrane Handbook: Section 4.5 - Documenting and reporting the search process
"Document the search process in enough detail to ensure that it can be reported correctly in the review." (Cochrane Handbook, 2020)

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. Cite one of these published statements in your research.

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