Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.
University of Washington Health Sciences Library

Systematic Reviews and other evidence synthesis projects

Learning Resources

Recommeded:
Systematic Searches tutorials by Yale's Harvey Cushing/John Hay Whitney Medical Library.

This series provides guidance on the process of constructing a comprehensive search, from initial planning through grey lit and evaluating your search.

Bramer WM, de Jonge GB, Rethlefsen ML, Mast F, Kleijnen J. A systematic approach to searching: an efficient and complete method to develop literature searches. J Med Libr Assoc. 2018;106(4):531-541. doi:10.5195/jmla.2018.283. PMID: 30271302; PMCID: PMC6148622.

Boolean Operators

Boolean operators are the way that AND, OR, and NOT are used in databases.

If you search on...

  • Myocardial Infarction AND stroke: All results will contain both myocardial infarction and stroke.
  • Myocardial infarction OR stroke: Results may include just myocardial infarction, just stroke, or both.
  • Myocardial infarction NOT stroke: Any records containing stroke will be excluded. Use very carefully! It is easy to accidentally remove relevant records.

Parentheses enable the creation of multi-part searches. They allow you to group your terms and control the order in which the database interprets them. With no parentheses, the database will process the terms from left to right.

  • asthma AND (children OR pediatric): All results will contain both asthma and one or more of the synonyms.
  • asthma AND children OR pediatric: Results may include asthma and children, just pediatric, or both sets of terms.

Developing your Search Strategy

To formulate your research question, you identified the important concepts. These concepts will be the building blocks for your search.

A simplified version of how this works can be written as:
(Concept_A) AND (Concept_B) AND (Concept_C) AND (Concept_D)

For each concept, you will develop search terms. These will be joined by OR:
(TermA1 OR TermA2 OR...) AND (TermB1 OR TermB2 OR...) AND (TermC1 OR TermC2 OR...) AND (TermD1 OR TermD2 OR...)

A search concept table can help you organize the concepts and terms:
Blank concept table (Word doc) (PDF) developed by Cushing/Whitney Medical Library, Yale University

 

Example:

Concept tables for PubMed and PsycINFO for the research question Compare the effectiveness of acupuncture vs. hypnosis for smoking cessation

 

 PUBMED concept: smoking cessation concept: hypnosis concept: acupuncture

Database Thesaurus Terms
(MeSH terms)

 smoking cessation
 smoking/prevention and control
 smoking/therapy
 tobacco use disorder/prevention and control
 tobacco use disorder/therapy

 hypnotherapy  acupuncture therapy
Keywords

 
 smoking
 smoker*
 

 hypnosis
 hypnotherapy

 acupuncture
 acupressure

 

(“smoking cessation”[Mesh] OR “smoking/prevention and control”[Mesh] OR “smoking/therapy”[Mesh] OR “tobacco use disorder/prevention and control”[Mesh] OR “tobacco use disorder/therapy”[Mesh] OR smoking OR smoker*)
AND
(
“hypnotherapy”[Mesh] OR hypnosis OR hypnotherapy)
AND
(
“acupuncture therapy”[Mesh] OR acupuncture OR acupressure)

 

 PsycINFO (EBSCO) concept: smoking cessation concept: hypnosis concept: acupuncture
Database Thesaurus Terms

 smoking cessation
 tobacco smoking
 tobacco use disorder

hypnosis
hypnotherapy

autohypnosis

 acupuncture

Keywords

 
 smoking
 smoker*
 

 hypnosis
 hypnotherapy

 acupuncture
 acupressure

 

(DE "Smoking Cessation" OR  DE "Tobacco Smoking" OR DE "Tobacco Use Disorder" OR smoking OR smoker*)
AND
(
DE "Hypnosis" OR DE "Hypnotherapy" OR DE "Autohypnosis" OR hypnosis OR hypnotherapy)
AND
(
DE “Acupuncture” OR acupuncture OR acupressure)

Document your search

Plan for success by keeping track of your searches!
  1. Since systematic reviews and other evidence syntheses can take a long time, you may need to re-run your search close to publication in order to identify newer articles.
  2. You will need to report, at a minimum, your search strategy in your article. The publisher may also require that you provide your full search string for at least one database.
  3. You may wish to make all your search strings available as supplemental material. 

Document Your Search Strategies
  • Save your exact search strategy for each database in a document such as MS Word or Google Docs.
  • Record the date each database searched, years covered, any filters used, and number of hits retrieved.
  • Record number of citations after de-duplication.

Tip: Save your search string for future use in personal account within each database (eg MyNCBI in PubMed, My Saved Searches in Web of Science, My EBSCOhost in CINAHL Plus).


Write Up Search Methods

For additional models of search methodology reporting, refer to see other guidelines in Guides for Conducting Systematic Reviews.

 

Health Sciences Library | 1959 NE Pacific Street, T334 Health Sciences Building, Box 357155, Seattle, WA 98195-7155 USA, 206-543-3390 | Privacy | Terms
CC BY-NC 4.0 Text on this page created by UW Libraries is licensed under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license. Images and video are not included. See details.