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Retired Guide - Systematic Review (SR) Service: STEP 3: Crafting the search strategy

Collaborate with a MSK Research Informationist to publish your Systematic Review.

Crafting the search strategy to identify relevant publications or conducting the Literature Review

Work with your assigned research informationist trained in performing systematic reviews to plan the search strategy and conduct the searches.  Brainstorm on all possible keywords which will help when also selecting controlled vocabulary (MeSH, EMTREE). 

The Cochrane handbook for systematic reviews of interventions, refers to “…the selection of appropriate subject heading and text words [keywords]  for the search strategy.” Another eminent publication, Centre for Reviews and Dissemination. Systematic reviews: CRD’s guidance for undertaking reviews in health care, also states that “…a search strategy will usually comprise both indexing terms (if the database has thesaurus or controlled vocabulary) and ‘free text’ terms and synonyms…”  Consider commercial and specialized abstracting and indexing databases as well as other sources of unpublished data – you want to ensure you have conducted an exhaustive search.  This might also include hand searching of key journals and reviewing bibliographies found in key papers.

Research Informationist’s support:

1. Construct the search strategy based on the PICO question as well as discuss keywords. Apply appropriate logic and position of Boolean operators.
2. Have another member of the research informationist team peer review the final search strategy.
3. Recommend commercial and specialized bibliographic databases as well as grey literature sources.
4. Execute preliminary search, refine if required, and then execute final searches.
5. Set up search alerts if appropriate.
6. Help with bibliographic management tool if required.

 NEXT: STEP 4: Assessing papers retrieved

Selected references:
*McGowan J, Sampson M, Salzwedel DM, Cogo E, Foerster V, Lefebvre C. PRESS Peer Review of Electronic Search Strategies: 2015 Guideline Statement. J Clin Epidemiol. 2016 Jul;75:40–46.

PRESS – Peer Review of Electronic Search Strategies: 2015 Guideline Explanation and Elaboration (PRESS E&E). Ottawa: CADTH; 2016 Jan.

* Schmucker C, Bluemle A, Briel M, Portalupi S, Lang B, Motschall E, Schwarzer G, Bassler D, Mueller KF, von Elm E, Meerpohl JJ. A protocol for a systematic review on the impact of unpublished studies and studies published in the gray literature in meta-analyses. Syst Rev. 2013 May 2;2:24.

* Horsley T, Dingwall O, Sampson M. Checking reference lists to find additional studies for systematic reviews. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011 Aug 10;(8):MR000026.

* Hopewell S, McDonald S, Clarke M, Egger M. Grey literature in meta-analyses of randomized trials of health care interventions. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2007 Apr 18;(2):MR000010.

* Shojania KG, Bero LA. Taking advantage of the explosion of systematic reviews: an efficient MEDLINE search strategy. Eff Clin Pract. 2001 Jul-Aug;4(4):157-62.

* Dickersin K, Scherer R, Lefebvre C. Identifying relevant studies for systematic reviews. BMJ (Clinical research ed). 1994;309(6964):1286-91.