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Choose your databases

To ensure comprehensive search results, look at our recommendations to help you identify the key databases for your topic.

Following Cochrane guidelines the 2 essential databases are Medline and Embase. With CENTRAL added if the topic is looking at RCTs. Then add subject specific databases that are the most appropriate for your topic.


A Health Systematic review will usually include include Medline and Embase (as two of the largest health databases in the world) and Subject Specific databases. See Cochrane handbook for info on Sources to Search.

Choose the most relevant databases to your topic. Remember - less is more! See Cochrane handbook for info on Sources to Search.

  • Urban Studies Abstracts
    Urban Studies Abstracts includes bibliographic records covering areas related to urban studies, including urban affairs, community development, urban history, and other areas of key relevance to the discipline.
  • Google Scholar
    Scholar is increasingly used as an additional searching source due to its unique ranking system and full text searching of articles. The contents and workings of Scholar are not publicly available so it should not be used as a primary source. Searches may not be replicable due to changes to their system. In the case of high numbers of results it is recommended that you choose and document a cut off point eg. the first 100 results.

To find the best database on other topics such as Business, Education, Law, view our other guides or contact your liaison librarian.

Citation databases can also be searched systematically but are more commonly used for Citation (Snowball) searching every key article (articles that match the topic of the review) as described below.

Web of Science    VIDEO
The oldest multidisciplinary citation database that provides the reference list of an article as well who has cited that article which is handy for key article cross-checking. It picks up citations from journals, conferences and books.Licensing and Resource Information.

Scopus   VIDEO
The largest abstract and citation database that provides the reference list of an article as well who has cited that article which is handy for key article cross-checking. It picks up citations from journals, conferences, books and the web.Licensing and Resource Information

Citation searching (snowball searching)

Each key article on your review topic can be "snowball" searched
to find citing articles and references using Scopus and Web of Science

Unpublished materials (often referred to as Grey Literature) can be very useful sources of information for your review. They include: reports (including government and statistical reports), dissertations, theses, conference papers, technical & other trade papers, bibliographies and documents in repositories.

A separate Grey Literature Guide exists which provides a comprehensive overview of grey literature for the health sciences.  We highlight some of the important sources here.


  • Our Theses guide lists the resources to consider searching.
  • Adding the word 'thesis' to your library or database search will help narrow the search.
  • If the thesis is not available online, you can try contacting the author for a copy.
  • Alternatively you may be able to request a copy of a thesis via Interlibrary Loan from the relevant university library.


  • Often you may need to contact the author of a conference paper directly unless their work is published on the conference website. It is recommended your supervisor contact the author to increase the chance of positive response.
  • Alternatively you could request the conference paper or abstract via Interlibrary Loan.
  • Go to: Grey Literature Guide – Conference papers for more information on locating conference papers.

Government reports and policies

Choosing databases

To ensure comprehensive search results, look at our recommendations to help you identify the key databases for your topic.

NOTE! Databases must be searched individually in a systematic review. Combining databases can produce unreliable results.

  • Identify the best databases to use:
    • Search each database individually
    • Start with the essential database for any health systematic search: MEDLINE Complete and EMBASE
    • Add the subject specific databases appropriate for your topic e.g. APA PsycINFO, SportDISCUS, CINAHL, Global Health
    • Add a regional database such as INFORMIT Health Subset (Australian)
    • Ask your librarian for advice if your topic straddles other disciplines (business, law, education)
    • Use the citation linking databases Scopus and Web of Science for Key Article Cross-Checking (Snowballing)
      • Citation linking databases can also be systematically searched like MEDLINE etc. if it is considered helpful for finding further relevant literature
  • Look into other sources for information:
    • Grey Literature (Advanced Google searching for studies, government reports, statistics)
    • Theses and Dissertations (Trove, DRO, Proquest Theses and Dissertations, WorldCat)
    • Conference papers and other unpublished works.

Why search databases separately?

The limiters (Peer reviewed, English, Human) are different on each database, so we have to search each database one at a time.

tick peer reviewed in the advanced search pageIf we search APA PsycINFO, Medline Complete and CINAHL Complete together, and tick “peer reviewed”; Medline doesn’t have a peer reviewed tick box, so it removes itself from the search, and doesn't tell you. This means you have lost the results from the largest Health database. Because we cannot know all the ways a database might clash with others, we just have to search them one at a time to be SURE we definitely searched them all!

The only exception to this rule is the INFORMIT Databases, INFORMIT is an Australian platform, and there are 11 databases in the Health Subset we recommend you search. All these small databases are designed so that you can search them in one go.

What is a Platform? Is it different to a database?

Platforms are large companies that buy lots of databases. EBSCO, Science Direct, Ovid, and Informit are all platforms. Platforms often have their own user interface, search operators and syntax.

Databases include CINAHL Complete, Medline Complete, SportDiscus with Full Text and many more. When documenting which database you used, be sure to copy the full name of the database (eg. 'with Full Text') as this describes the exact database you have accessed.

Many of these databases can be found on multiple platforms. For instance some universities access APA PsycINFO using the Ovid platform. So when reporting what you searched you would say Medline Complete via EbscoHost – this would clarify which version of Medline you used. Deakin University has access to at least 7 different versions of Medline. It would be difficult to replicate the search without knowing which platform was used and what syntax to apply to the search.

A more unusual example is Embase. Which is a database that has its own platform ( But because you can access the database through OTHER platforms (like Ovid) it is best to say EMBASE database via

ACTIVITY: Identify the best databases

There are 2 questions as part of this activity.  Use the arrow   to go to the next activity.