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Systematic Reviews - Searching the Literature

Subject Librarian

Lisa Tjosvold's picture
Lisa Tjosvold
‚Äč2K4.14 WC Mackenzie Health Sciences Centre
University of Alberta
Edmonton, AB Canada
T6G 2R7
(780) 248-2025

Health Sciences Librarian

Sandy Campbell's picture
Sandy Campbell
John W. Scott Health Sciences Library
2K3.26 Walter C. Mackenzie Health Sciences Centre
780 492-7915
Skype Contact

How to use this guide

Use the following steps when conducting a literature search for a systematic review:

  1. Check previously published Systematic Reviews and Health Technology Assessments to determine if your question has already been answered or partially answered.
  2. Conduct searches for primary studies in pre-appraised and unfiltered Electronic Databases. Use search filters to restrict your search to the study designs you are including in your report.
  3. Also look for studies or documentation on adverse effects and patient safety.
  4. Scan reference Lists of
    • relevant articles
    • relevant Systematic Reviews and Health Technology Assessments
  5. Using the 'Cited Search' tool, check some of your included studies in Scopus and/or Web of Science
  6. Contact, if necessary 
    • Authors of Relevant Articles and Reviews
    • Principle investigators of ongoing studies
    • Pharmaceutical Companies
    • Directories of Associations and Research Groups
    • Editors from relevant Cochrane Review Group and have them search their trials register
  7. For ongoing studies search Clinical Trials Registers
  8. Clinical Practice Guidelines contain both primary studies and systematic reviews
  9. Handsearch relevant Journals and Scientific Meetings for conference abstracts or full manuscripts
  10. Depending on your topic, you will need to search the Grey Literature such as
    • Meeting Abstracts and conference proceedings
    • Theses and Dissertations
    • Government Documents
    • Grey Literature Journals
  11. Meta Search Engines give you a general idea of what you might find in the literature
  12. Web search engines such as Google are good for topics that aren't well indexed in the published literature.

Systematic Review Data Registry