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Systematic Search for Health

Previously known as "Advanced Search Guide". Please update your bookmarks to new URL

About this guide

This guide contains information, demonstrations and instructions to help post-graduate students and researchers embark on a systematic search in Health.

What is systematic searching?

Systematic searching is an organised search process for finding relevant literature on a particular topic that carefully considers your search terms, search techniques, selection of databases, and search methods. Throughout the process you need to document your search and reflect on the search results obtained.

For a search to be considered systematic it generally meets the following four requirements:



Publish your search method for others to see.


Provide enough detail for others to reproduce your search.


Use all relevant resources to avoid missing important literature.

Attempt to minimise bias

Screened and planned by multiple team members to prevent individual bias.


Systematic searching is an expected part of a systematic review, scoping review and other evidence syntheses. For more information on systematic reviews and other literature reviews, check out the Systematic and Systematic-like Review Toolkit guide.

Systematic searching journey

When undertaking systematic searching, you will go through several stages of the process to ensure you develop a search strategy that can find all the relevant resources required to address your research question.

Activity overview

This image displays the steps involved in developing a systematic search as a journey map.

Systematic Searching Journey

  1. Before you begin
    • Decide on a research question
    • Identify the appropriate review type
  2. Exploring your topic
    • Check for similar reviews
    • Scope the literature
    • Collect gold set articles
    • Analyse gold set for keywords
  3. Planning your search
    • Identify concepts
    • Brainstorm keywords
    • Apply search techniques
    • Choose your databases
  4. Build and run your primary search
    • Collect subject headings
    • Add field codes to your keywords<
    • Combine synonyms with OR
    • Join all concepts with AND
  5. Troubleshoot and test
    • Review your results
    • Test your gold set
    • Troubleshoot and refine
  6. Are you happy with the results?
    • No - Troubleshoot and refine until your answer is yes
    • Yes - Move on to proofread your search
  7. Translate your search
  8. Document your search
  9. Screen your search results
    • Apply your inclusion/exclusion criteria
    • Title and abstract screening
    • Full text screening
    • PRISMA
  10. Your searching journey is complete.