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Systematic reviews: Recording search methods

Recording your search methodology

There are times when you will need to record and share your search methodology, especially in the context of study or writing for publication. In addition to saving your search strategy in the database itself so you can run it again later, we strongly suggest keeping records in a Word document as you go.

Records to keep for a systematic review or similar publication

  • full name of the database
    • eg Ovid MEDLINE(R) ALL 1946 to August 26, 2020.  In Ovid this is available just above the search box
  • full search strategy
    • In Ovid go to your saved search in My Workspace > My Searches & Alerts
    • Click on the 'eye' icon above your saved search to find a format free version of your search strategy to cut and paste.
    • at minimum keep a screenshot that you can type out neatly later
  • date you carried out the search
  • number of results retrieved on that day

It takes very little effort to record this information at the time, but it is impossible to recreate it later.

This is how a record might look for our sample search:

Ovid MEDLINE(R) ALL 1946 to August 28, 2020

Last searched 1 September, 2020 (1200 results)

1. exp *Dementia/    
2. (dementia or alzheimer*).ti,ab.    
3. 1 or 2    
4. *Aggression/    
5. *Violence/    
6. (aggress* or violen*).ti,ab.   
7. 4 or 5 or 6    
8. 3 and 7    
9. limit 8 to (english language and yr="2010 -Current")

This search strategy is easily replicated by another person. Note the inclusion of:

  • both MeSH subject headings and title/abstract textword searches. 
  • neatly grouped concepts
  • use of AND/OR
  • very basic limits - just language and year. See further information for removing animal studies.

If you are searching multiple databases for a review you will need to keep these records for every database you search. Strategies will differ from one database to another due to different subject headings and syntax/commands.

Guide Author

Helen Wilding, Senior Research Librarian

Carl de Gruchy Library, St Vincent's Hospital Melbourne

Literature Searching, Systematic Reviews, Mental Health liaison 
Thursdays, Fridays & alternate Wednesdays
Helen's profile | Researchgate | Orcid