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Systematic Review Guide

Overview of the Systematic Review process with links to resources

Searching online best strategies, Boolean and Concept building


You can use the search operators AND, OR and NOT to combine search terms and concepts. These are the most commonly known and used operators.

The operators AND and NOT limit the number of results from a search. The operator OR does the opposite; it increases the number of results.


  • Endangered AND birds : combines these two words
  • Endangered OR birds : searches for the words endangered OR birds. This search will produce more results. (Tip: the operator “OR” can also be used to include different spellings and translations or synonyms in the search).
  • Endangered NOT birds : searches for the word ‘endangered’ and excludes the word ‘birds’.

To see how this works, take a look at The Boolean machine. Move your cursor over the operators AND, OR and NOT to see how they determine your search.

You can also combine more than two search terms. Use brackets to indicate the priority. For example (Money OR inflation) AND banking.


To help with you search strategy 'Do':

  • Contact your Librarian to help with with search, librarians are trained in search strategy!
  • Create a personal login for all databases; this will enable you to save searches and set up search alerts. 
  • Use Subject heading where possible (e.g. Mesh in Medline, PubMed etc) as part of your search strategy
  • Combine the Subject headings search with a Keyword search.
  • For the keyword search cover all reasonable variants of each concept term
  • Use truncation (*) to cover plurals and wildcards (# and ?) to cover variants of a word (eg Colo?r for colour and color)
  • Explore the 'Help screen' of the database to check the search aids, proximity search, phrase search, wildcard and truncation that works with that database 
  • Citation Checking: If relevant do check the reference list at the end of the article; you can search for journal title on the main library page to see if AIT holds the journal referenced or request as an Inter Library Loan if necessary. 
  • Note: If the journal title is in abbreviated format simply type the abbreviation into a google search with the word ‘journal’ beside it and the full title will appear
  • Pubmed has a ‘Related citation’ link on its searches to help you find similar articles
  • Google scholar has a ‘Cited by’ and Cited in’ function which can also be used to find similar material.

The Main currently available Science Databases include the EBSCO databases (CINAHL, Academic Search, AMED, SocINDEX); HEALTH RESEARCH Premier; PsycInfo; PsycArticles; Scopus; Science Direct Database; and free databases such as PubMed and Google Scholar. (to be updated as required)

Useful AIT databases for a systematic review include: 

Scopus; Pubmed; Medline (available though EBSCO); Cinahl; Cochrane Library (freely available) ERIC(freely available) Open Grey (Freely available) Google Scholar and PsychInfo.

Supplementary Materials: Lenus, RIAN, EthOS, OpenDOAR, BASE, DART-Europe, SSRN, NICE

Other useful databases include Embase; Web of Science;  ASSIA: Applied Social Sciences Index and Abstracts. Sociological Abstracts, Social Sciences Citation Index,  Age Line, ChildData, Community Wise, Social Care Online, IBSS, IDOX LILACS, PEDro.


Useful Tip: Identify Reviews with similar features to your review, on Cochrane, Prosporo and PubMed. This will give insights into possible search strategies and databases. 


  • Identify all relevant keywords (independent of any one database) and list them all
  • To help with this: look at similar articles and the keywords assigned also the words in the abstract; think of variants on these key words
  • Identify Relevant MeSH (or other thesaurus terms such as Emtree); to find the relevant MeSH term go to the PubMed MeSH database 
  • Inclusion / Exclusion Criteria may need to be included in your search strategy; dates, language, etc. 
  • Search filters for document type etc may be included in your search strategy.
  • If appropriate the use of extra search features  can be helpful; truncation, wildcards, proximity operators etc.  Database 'help link buttons', can provide guidance on what truncation features work in each database
  • Sensitivity versus Specificity: Systematic reviews aim at very high sensitivity with particular search resources
  • Make sure all key papers are included in your search results; revisit the search strategy if this is not the case. 
  • Document your search strategy...

Example of a Help screen from EBSCO

Search History

Mesh Terms Used: Translation

When documenting a search strategy it is recommended that a personal account be created in any databases to be searched. The personal account signup option is usually on the upper right. Saved search histories of final searches can then be downloaded from the databases

This is an example of a documented search strategy on Prospero for a rapid review

It is also recommended that a PRISMA  flow diagram of the entire search strategy be included. The PRISMA Flow Diagram Generator  is an Open Source online tool that may assist you in producing your PRISMA flow diagram.

Search Filters – sit on top on your subject searches Carry out your subject searches first, evaluate and make sure you are happy with the relevancy of the results. Then apply the filter.

PubMed search strategy for Systematic Reviews

(((systematic review[ti] OR systematic literature review[ti] OR systematic scoping review[ti] OR 
systematic narrative review[ti] OR systematic qualitative review[ti] OR systematic evidence review[ti] OR 
systematic quantitative review[ti] OR systematic meta-review[ti] OR systematic critical review[ti] OR 
systematic mixed studies review[ti] OR systematic mapping review[ti] OR systematic cochrane review[ti] OR 
systematic search and review[ti] OR systematic integrative review[ti]) NOT comment[pt] NOT (protocol[ti] OR 
protocols[ti])) NOT MEDLINE [subset]) OR (Cochrane Database Syst Rev[ta] AND review[pt]) OR 
systematic review[pt]