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Systematic Search for Health

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Research databases

Choosing the best databases for your search maximises topic coverage and reduces the risk of bias. We recommend following the industry leading Cochrane Handbook database recommendations. Search all Essential databases, a Subject-Specific database, and a Citation database for citation searching. You may also consider Grey Literature discussed further down the page.

Systematic search techniques such as subject headings require that you search databases ONE AT A TIME.

Cochrane considers Medline and Embase as Essential databases for health reviews, with Cochrane CENTRAL added if the review is including Randomised Controlled Trials (RCTs).

  • Medline Complete (Ebsco) or Ovid Medline (for those trained in Ovid)
    The largest health database in the world, based in the United States and part of the larger PubMed collection.
  • Embase
    Along with MEDLINE considered a the key international general healthcare databases, includes biomed and pharmacoplogy.
    • Video on searching Embase and Emtree systematically (watch to the end to catch all the important tips).
    • IMPORTANT: Register and/or sign in to an Embase account before you search in order to export more than 500 results.
    • The Embase-only filter should be added to the final combining line:
      AND [embase]/lim NOT ([embase]/lim AND [medline]/lim)
  • Cochrane CENTRAL
    Centralised collection of all Trials from PubMed/MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, WHO ICTRP and
    Required for reviews which include the study type Randomised Controlled Trials (RCTs)

Scholarly Services Librarians have selected these databases as the best source for their subject area at Deakin Library. They are collated by professionals in the field and regularly updated with the latest journals for best coverage of the subject. Choose the most relevant databases to your topic. Remember - less is more!

Database Subject
Main psychology database developed by the American Psychological Association.
  • Psychology
CINAHL Complete
Main nursing database that also covers allied health.
  • Nursing
  • Midwifery
  • Mental health
  • Nutrition
  • Occupational therapy
Maternity and Infant Care (MIDIRS)
Also known as MIDIRS, developed by and for the midwifery profession.
  • Midwifery
Global Health
A large public health database.
  • Public health
  • International health
  • Nutrition
  • Biomedical 
SportDISCUS with Full Text
Comprehensive sport and sports medicine database.
  • Sports and exercise
Health Policy Reference Centre
International and U.S. coverage of all aspects of health policy.
  • Health policy
SocINDEX with Full Text
Comprehensive sociology research database.
  • Social work
  • Urban and political sociology
  • Social psychology
  • Substance abuse
ERIC (Education Resource Information Center) includes all levels of education and education theory.
  • Education
Business Source Complete
One of the largest Business databases business and industry practice, and organisational psychology.
  • Business
  • Organisational Behaviour
IEEE Xplore
Covering information technology, engineering and related sciences.
  • Technology
  • Engineering
Environment Complete
Includes agriculture, environmental study, pollution & waste management, environmental technology, environmental law, public policy, social impacts, urban planning, and more.
  • Agriculture
  • Environmental study
  • Pollution & waste management
Urban Studies Abstracts
Includes urban studies, community development, urban history, built environment impact etc.
  • Urban planning
  • Architecture

To find the best database on other topics such as Science, Business, Education, Law, view our other guides or contact your Scholarly Services Librarian.

Scopus and Web of Science are citation databases, they are commonly used for citation searching of gold set articles in a systematic search. Health tends to perform better in Scopus. Their breadth of coverage and lack of universal subject headings makes them less suitable for systematic searching. Cochrane does not require exhaustive citation searching using multiple citation indexes.

Citation searching is a process where you search for the title of an article to find citing articles and references. The benefit of this search method is finding articles not by keywords in your search, but by the relationship between papers as expert authors in their field cite other relevant studies.

When to citation search:

  • Preliminary searching: during this stage, you will identify gold set articles. Searches for these articles in a citation database to find further relevant gold set articles in the references and citing articles.
  • Before full-text screening: Once you have identified the full text articles to be included in the review, you can citation search each article to check for any further titles which may have been missed in bibliographic database searches.

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

Licensing information: Please read what you can and can't do with each resource in the A-Z Databases under 'License Information'. Queries can be sent to the Publisher Licensing Consultant.


If you are writing a protocol, it is essential to include the search strategy, the databases to be searched, and whether you are including grey literature. You can find out more about protocols on the Systematic and systematic-like review toolkit.

Grey literature

Our Grey Literature guide and Searching the grey literature module provides a comprehensive overview of grey literature for the health sciences.  

Can you systematically search for grey literature?

Grey literature platforms are not designed for systematic searching, so you can’t replicate the line-by-line search strategy.  Instead, you should aim to produce a well-constructed, simplified variation of the bibliographic search. Although there are no established ‘gold standard’ methods for grey literature searching, you should still aim to transparently document your search strategies.  

  • Construct your grey literature search after your database search when you are most aware and familiar with the topic terminology and expected literature.
  • Be clear about the type of grey literature you intend to include in your review. 
  • Consider running multiple separate search strategies on the one platform.
  • Document your grey literature search strategies. Remember to record all of your keyword combinations, any limiters you applied, and how many results pages you read through.  

Know the difference between a database and a platform

Databases are digital collections of information, including journals, articles, e-books, reports, and conference proceedings. MEDLINE Complete, Embase, and APA PsycINFO are examples of databases with a health focus. These databases are purposefully designed to facilitate efficient and precise searches.

Platforms are online systems or websites that provide access to these databases. EBSCOhost, Ovid, and Informit are examples of platforms that provide access to multiple databases. Platforms often have their own user interface, search operators, and syntax.

Many of these databases can be found on multiple platforms, so when recording your search strategies, it is important to outline which platform you used to access each database. For example, “MEDLINE Complete via EBSCOHost”. 

Platforms like Proquest and Ebsco have different collections of databases. Some are uniwque to that platform (Like CINAHL is only on Ebsco). Other databases are available on both platforms (like MEDLINE).