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Evidence Synthesis : Executing the Search

Useful resources and tools for planning and conducting systematic reviews

Developing a Search Strategy

The search strategy will be reported on in the methods section of your paper. Therefore, it is crucial to have a well thought out and documented search strategy. 

Search tips to keep in mind when developing your search strategy:

  • Include all concepts in your search
    • Having a well developed research question will help
  • Include both keywords and subject headings
    • Keywords broaden your results and will be searched for in journal titles, author names, article titles and article abstracts. 
    • Subject terms will narrow your results and will look for sources that have had a specific term applied by a cataloger/indexer
  • Include spelling variations
    • Behavior, Behaviour 
  • Use truncation and spelling variations
    • Child*
  • Use phrase searching when necessary 
    • "Social Media"
  • Use boolean operators effectively
    • "AND" narrows the search
    • "OR" broadens the search
    • "NOT" excludes terms
  • Use limiters provided by the database in order to tailor your search results further
  • Adapt the search strategy as needed for each database

Documenting Your Search

Systematic reviews should be replicable. You will need to document the search process for each database, including all search terms & variations, how many results you retrieved for each search, how many records were duplicates, & the final number of results that you used for your first pass.  PRISMA provides guidelines on the information you will need to include.