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Systematic Search for Health

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

Proofreading your search

Proofreading your search is a vital step in the review process, it minimises the likelihood of missing important studies, contributing to the comprehensiveness of your review. This process will help you confirm that your search is aligned with being transparent, reproducible, exhaustive and having minimal bias.

The proofreading checklist has been designed to help you self-assess the comprehensiveness of your search. Each element will prompt you to look for errors in your search strategy that could affect your results, such as narrow keywords and missed syntax.

After reviewing your search with this checklist, you can feel confident that your search is ready to be translated into other databases. 

Proofreading Checklist


The research topic and search concepts


  • Consider if you've included all relevant elements of PICO/your chosen research framework.
  • Consider broadening your search by removing a concept or adding further synonym keywords.
  • Consider narrowing your search by adding another concept or revising your keywords.
  • Check that your concepts closely match your research question and remove less important concepts, e.g. instead of searching for pregnancy AND women, just search for pregnancy.


Boolean operators

  • Use OR to combine keyword and subject headings lines to form a concept set.
  • Use AND to combine each concept set in the final line of the search.
  • Check that the number of words used in your proximity expression is appropriate, e.g. would N3 or N5 be more effective?
  • Ensure that you place parentheses around any proximity groupings.




Subject Headings

  • Check for subject headings that have been used in your key articles.
  • Search the subject heading index to see what other subject headings may apply.


Spelling and syntax

  • E.g., Nurse* is too narrow. Use nurs* to find nurse, nurses, nursing.
  • E.g., Car* is too broad for caring terms. Use caring OR care*.
  • Check if the platform uses single (e.g. ‘mental health’) or double (e.g. “social media”) or no (e.g. young adult) quotation marks.


Limits and filters


Adapted from the PRESS Checklist for non-librarian users. PRESS – Peer Review of Electronic Search Strategies: 2015 Guideline Explanation and Elaboration (PRESS E&E). Ottawa: CADTH; 2016 Jan.


Ask a colleague or supervisor to peer review your search strategy. They might pick up errors or biases which you missed.