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Documenting the search process

Systematic review searches must be documented in sufficient detail to allow others to be able to assess the thoroughness of the search. You will need to keep track of:

  • database searched, together with the platform searched via (eg. OVID Medline, Ebsco PsycINFO, CSA Sociological Abstracts)
  • date each search were conducted
  • Subject headings and keywords used - including whether terms were exploded, truncated, etc
  • Search history, including the combination of terms
  • Number of results retrieved for each search and combination
  • Total number of records
  • Duplicates identified
  • Numbers pre-screening and post-screening

In addition, all searches conducted via handsearching must identify the source (name of journal, conference proceedings, etc), plus the years.
More information about reporting Grey literature searches can be found on the page Grey literature.

Tip: read the Prisma extension for searching. The checklist includes 16 reporting items, each of which is detailed with exemplar reporting and Rationale.

Useful websites & tools



  • Rayyan
    Rayyan is a 100% FREE web application to help systematic review authors perform their job in a quick, easy and enjoyable fashion. Authors create systematic reviews, collaborate on them, maintain them over time and get suggestions for article inclusion.
  • Abstrackr
    From Brown University. Open and free to all. It’s set up to automatically pull in abstracts from NLM using PMIDs. One can also transfer abstracts over from EndNote. Allows for collaborative screening of abstracts.
  • Covidence
    Covidence is a core component of Cochrane’s review production toolkit. It is dedicated to improving the use of evidence in healthcare decision-making. You can have a free trial for 1 project and two reviewers.
  • EPPI-Reviewer 4
    EPPI-Reviewer 4 is software for all types of literature review, including systematic reviews, meta-analyses, 'narrative' reviews and meta-ethnographies. It is a ‘not for profit’ service with different subscription fees.  
  • DistillerSR
    DistillerSR is an online application designed specifically for the screening and data extraction phases of a systematic review. Subscription Fee. Additional technical information at:
  • Review Manager (RevMan)
    Review Manager is the software used for preparing and maintaining Cochrane Reviews. It is most useful when you have formulated the question for the review, and allows you to prepare the text, build the tables showing the characteristics of studies and the comparisons in the review, and add study data. It can perform meta-analyses and present the results graphically.



Questions? Ask the experts:

Subjects: Information Literacy, SmartCat, Systematic Review, OER, Fake news