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Systematic Reviews: The Process: Documenting

Documenting Search Strategy

IOM Standards: Document the search

3.4.1 Provide a line-by-line description of the search strategy, including the date of every search for each database, web browser, etc.

3.4.2 Document the disposition of each report identified including reasons for their exclusion if appropriate

The search strategy for electronic databases should be described in sufficient detail in a review so that the process could be replicated. The following information should be included for each electronic bibliographic database each time it is searched:

• Title of database searched (e.g. MEDLINE)

• Name of the host (e.g. Ovid)

• Date search was run (month, day, year)

• Years covered by the search

• limits such as language, age, etc. 

The PRISMA checklist -- Display full electronic search strategy for at least one database, including any limits used, such that it could be repeated. 

Complete search strategy used, including all search terms (preferably cut and pasted rather than retyped). For PubMed, consider using the information in Details to show exactly how the terms were searched. Systematic reviews often include the complete search strategy as part of the Appendices for publication.

One or two sentence summary of the search strategy indicating which lines of the search strategy were used to identify records related to the health condition and intervention, and which lines were used to identify studies of the appropriate design


Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions 4.2.6, 2006. See Chapter 6.6 Documenting and reporting the search process

Yoshii A. Analysis of the reporting of search strategies in Cochrane systematic reviews. J Med Libr Assoc. 2009 Jan;97(1):21-9. PubMed PMID: 19158999; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2605027.