Once the research question has been developed, searching can begin. This page outlines aspects of the search process to consider, including:
Check out the Systematic Review Planner document, it's a checklist for
Steps 1 and 2.
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Your completed search framework from Step 1 will help to determine the key concepts and develop relevant search terms.
There is flexibility in which elements need to be included in the final search strategy. Additionally, different elements may be interchanged (for example, intervention or exposure or other element of interest in PICO).
Here is an example from the previous scenario:
|Framework element||Scenario breakdown||Possible search terms|
|Population||adolescent||adolescent OR teenager OR youth|
|Population #2||Indigenous||Indigenous OR Aboriginal|
|Intervention||Nicotine replacement therapy||"Nicotine replacement therapy" OR NNT OR (specific drug names)|
|Comparison||Counselling||Counselling OR counseling OR therapy|
|Outcome||Smoking cessation/ risk of continued nicotine dependency||-|
Each of these search lines can be developed further by exploring additional keywords (synonyms, acronyms) and also subject headings (or controlled vocabularies), an important indexing tool used in databases.
Each element can then be linked together in a final search with the AND operator within the search history.
At least one element is usually left out of the search strategy, for example, outcomes, as these can be determined from within the found studies and may restrict the scope of the search if included.
If you're conducting a search to scope and explore a broader areas, instead of search frameworks, use between two and four major concepts for your search.
You will need to include terms from the database controlled vocabulary when developing a comprehensive search.
Recording or documenting the search strategy enables appropriate reporting of the search methodology for publication, and for verification.
Options for documentation include saving the search history from the database as a PDF file (see instructions in 2.13), or typing the search line by line. It is important to record the date of the search, the database, the platform and time period.
Let's return to our scenario. This is an example of a search which has been developed for Medline. It has been designed for comprehensiveness, including both keywords (including synonyms) and controlled vocabulary terms.
Date: 30 June, 2017
Database, platform: MEDLINE Complete via Ebsco
Timeframe: 1950- June 2017
EndNote can be used to collect the results of the final search and the Groups function can be used for inclusion / exclusion criteria. More information about using EndNote is available from the EndNote library guide.