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Systematic Search for Health

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

Documenting your search

Documentation is an important aspect of your systematic search as it allows the work to be transparent and reproducible. However you won't need to document ALL decisions throughout the process. This page will detail the main aspects of the process to document so that those in the research community can clearly understand your search methods and potentially use the information to update the topic in the future.

Plan for documenting your search

It is important early in the process of systematic search development that you and your team plan for how you are going to create, manage and store documents related to your systematic search. 

The following are points to consider when it comes to documenting: 

Discuss data management with your review team
  • For files, who needs access, how will storage work and be managed e.g. if data is requested or the search/review requires updates. 
  • Document key decisions made by the review team about data management. 
Create a space where everything will be stored
  • Manage tool limitations e.g. Don't store working EndNote libraries in OneDrive.  
  • When building a file structure, consider establishing a ‘read me’ file to indicate how the space is managed
Adopt a file naming convention
  • E.g. ‘yearmonth File Name’ 202307 Systematic Search Strategy  
  • Ensures documents are organised and minimises the risk of losing documents. 
Have a back-up plan

E.g. ‘I will back-up my working project files every two weeks or once a month. Back-up files will be stored in a dedicated file space within a project folder on a team OneDrive space. An Outlook reminder will be set to prompt back-ups

For further information on file naming, structure and storage check Managing information.

Documents required for transparency and reproducibility

icone for search methods document

Search method outline

A paragraph for the article outlining:

  • the databases and platforms chosen
  • the main concepts searched
  • the screening method used

Example - Search method outline (DOCX, 43KB)

icon for search strategy document

Full search method

The line by line search for each database and any notes to clarify how the search was run. include in the appendix or linked as supplementary info by journal.

Example - full systematic search (DOCX, 53KB)

table of searches document icon

Table of searches and export

A table which provides a summary of your searches, including the date each search was run, the database and platform used and the number of results exported.

Example - Table of searches and exports (DOCX, 26KB)

Prisma flow diagram document icon

PRISMA flow diagram

Note the number of results at each stage of the review according to the flowchart, this should be included in the published study.

You'll learn about PRISMA in the Screening your search results page.

Example - completed PRISMA flow diagram (PDF, 161KB)

Table of searches and exports

This is a document designed to ensure you know when the searches were run, which databases and platforms were used and how many results were exported from each database.

Date Database (Platform) Search # of results
Record when you last ran the search, so the search can be updated from that point Full title of database and platform used. Either paste your search string or refer to your search method recorded in your article appendix or files Record result numbers sent to EndNote (for PRISMA Flowchart)


Date Database (Platform) Search # of results
26/03/24 Medline ALL (Ovid) Refer to search method


CINAHL Complete (EBSCOHOST) Refer to search method
    Total 802


Don't forget:

  • Run each database search one at a time, do not combine databases.
  • Specify the full database name eg. SportDISCUS with Full Text, and the platform; EBSCOHOST
  • Record the number of results exported to EndNote, not the number of results found in the database. Databases can misreport the number of results exportable, due to duplication and record errors.

Exporting your search results

The easiest way to collate and store your exported references from all your databases is in a Reference Management Tool, like EndNote (Desktop).

Deakin students, researchers and staff have access to EndNote. To install EndNote on your device, carefully follow the instructions linked from the Deakin EndNote Library Resource Guide. If you are new to using EndNote or need a refresher on how to best use the software, please access recorded training and detailed step-by-step instructions from the above guide.  

How to import search results into EndNote

  1. Create a new EndNote library just for your review 
  2. Create a group for each database you plan to run your final search in e.g. MEDLINE Complete, CINAHL complete, Citation searching  
  3. Run the final search in all required databases 
  4. Depending on the database and platforms chosen, follow the Exporting Large Results from EndNote handout 
  5. Drag and drop the imported database results into their corresponding EndNote groups  
  6. This EndNote library is now ready to export to a screening software e.g. Covidence 

View our document for Exporting large results to EndNote.

Backing up your EndNote Libraries

Regularly backing-up EndNote files ensures work is protected in case files are lost, corrupted, or something goes wrong. There are several ways to back up your library, instructions are available on the Deakin EndNote Library Resource Guide.  

Some key points when working with EndNote:

It’s important that, while backed-up EndNote files can be stored on OneDrive or shared online spaces, a working EndNote library cannot operate from a OneDrive or shared online space. Keep working EndNote libraries in a location on your computer not synced to an online space or a USB. If working from a synced place is unavoidable, pause syncing while actively using your EndNote Library. 
If moving your files on the same computer, move both your .enl and .data folder TOGETHER – do not leave one behind, EndNote needs both to work 
If moving your EndNote library files onto a new computer, compress your library, save it in the new location, then delete the old library 
If working between computers, save the EndNote library to a USB or external hard drive 

Caution: EndNote Web not recommended

We do not recommend EndNote Web, or syncing this file due to the large size of libraries for systematic searches. While there are other reference management options, we recommend that if you are using a different software you ensure it can manage the number of records and the size of the files you will importing from the systematic search.