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Systematic Reviews

Specialised advice for planning, researching and writing Systematic Reviews.

Databases to search

  Controlled Vocabulary Natural Language (Keyword)
Description: Databases that provide a list of subject terms in the form of thesauri, subject headings or taxonomies. Subjects are added to each record by staff using a predefined list of terms. Natural Language databases allow searching by any words selected by the user.
Example Databases:
Advantages:
  • All articles on topic indexed by same heading
  • Able to identify articles that may not seem to be related by keywords
  • Easy to search for any word
  • Can combine all concepts into a single search
Disadvantages:
  • Cannot find results if the right subject heading is not used.
  • More time consuming as each concept or term must be searchd separately to get best results and then combine the separate searches
  • You must think of all the relevant terms yourself to find all the relevant literature
Best practice for using:
  • Look for checkboxes marked 'Map term to heading' or 'Suggest subject terms' to be directed to relevant subject headings when searching for a keyword.
  • If there are no checkboxes, look for a link to the Thesaurus.
  • Also search for keywords as well to find articles not yet assigned subject headings or to find articles when a relevant heading has been missed.
  • Use a thesaurus or other reference book to find related terms. Use a textbook or a database like Credo
  • Keep a list of terms when reading and other searches to help identify more terms that may be relevant.

Janet Catterall (Liaison Librarian Cairns​), How to find studies – the literature search, JCU Systematic Review Masterclass 2017

* Available to JCU staff and students only

Use a search strategy

Structure the search strategy carefully to maximise results.

Using Boolean operators can be very important to get the most appropriate results. It is important to check the database help pages to find out the way these operators work within different databases.

Think carefully about how the search terms are related to work out when OR or NOT can be applied most effectively.

Phrase searching should be used where there are obvious terms that belong together. However consider also whether terms would always be put together and whether a phrase may restrict the search too much. Sometimes using proximity operators will work better when words may appear close to each other.

Truncation and Wildcards finds different endings or spellings of words.

See more about developing your search strategy

More search tips

Field searching helps narrow the results to only results appearing in the most useful fields.

Most of the time relevant resources will mention the key concepts in the abstract. Sometimes it will be mentioned in the title but not always.

The subject field can also be useful in databases which use a thesaurus or subject headings, such as Medline, ERIC or PsycInfo. This way it is possible to search for terms in the subject heading and not need to know the exact term.

Finding review articles on similar topics will also be useful to find more relevant authors and papers 

Many databases provide limits to restrict results to 'reviews' using limiters such as publication type or document type. Check the Advanced Search screen for limiting options.

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