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Systematic Review

This guide aims to provide tools and resources that can be used for conducting a systematic review in medical and health sciences.

Resources for Documenting Search Results

Use the Systematic Review Worksheet to document the initial search for studies. The worksheet is designed to comply with the IOM Standard for Systematic Reviews and for use with PRISMA 2009 Flow Diagram (by the University of Canberra Library)

Systematic Review Worksheet (excel)

Saving Your Search Strategy and Receiving Updates

Many database platforms such as Ovid, EBSCOhost, Web of Science, and Scopus allow you to create a personal account to save your search strategies. By saving your search strategies, you can re-run the search easily in the future to check for updates. You may also set up search alerts to keep track on the latest research.

  • Look for the "Sign in" or "Register" button (usually at the top right of the top menu bar of the database) to register or sign in to your own account.
  • The “Help” button of the database page to get more information the way to set up an account and save your search strategies.

Documenting & Reporting Searches

Documenting searches

Your search strategy (search process) should be documented in detail and accurately in the systematic review to ensure that it is transparent and reproducible.

The following items should be recorded for EACH of the databases included in your search:

  • the date the search was run or last updated
  • the database name including the database provider/platform e.g. Medline (Ovid), CINAHL Complete (EBSCOhost)
  • your search strategy - what search terms, MeSH (medical subject headings) and keywords used, how keywords were truncated and nested, and how terms were combined with Boolean operators, etc.
  • the years searched
  • any filters or limitations applied (e.g. date/year of publication, age, gender, article type, or language of publication)
  • the number of studies retrieved
  • the number of duplicates identified
  • the number of studies excluded after screening

Reporting searches

There are a number of places where searches can be reported. It can be described briefly in the Methods or the Abstract section of the review while the detailed description can be made available as Appendix of the report.

For example, this systematic review published in Cochrane provides search details in the Methods section and full search strategies in the Appendices.

da Silva, E. M. K., Hochman, B., & Ferreira, L. M. (2014). Perioperative corticosteroids for preventing complications following facial plastic surgery. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews,6 (6), CD009697-CD009697.

Reporting Your Search: PRISMA Statement

PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses) is an evidence-based minimum set of items for reporting in systematic reviews and meta-analyses. 

  • PRISMA 2020 flow diagram is used for further documentation of the number of records identified from database, registers and through other sources. The flow diagram depicts the flow of information through the different phases of a systematic review. It maps out the number of records identified, included and excluded, and the reasons for exclusions.

  • PRISMA Checklist contains 27 items addressing the introduction, methods, results and discussion sections of a systematic review report.
  • PRISMA for Searching (PRISMA-S) is a 16-item checklist that covers multiple aspects of the search process for systematic reviews. It is intended to guide reporting, not conduct, of the search.

Click Searching: Recording & Reporting for more resources on reporting your searches in Cochrane systematic reviews. 

Managing Search Results

Remove duplications of the search - Systematic review involves searching multiple databases. As different databases often have overlap in content (journal) coverage, removing duplicates is necessary to ensure a valid and reliable pool of included studies. Most reference management tools and systematic review tools can help remove duplicates automatically. 

► Reference Management Tool

Reference management tool (also called bibliographic management tool), such as Endnote and RefWorks, does not only help you format citations for your research papers, the tool can be used to support the SR process. For example, 

  • organise, and manage a large number of search results found during the search process (i.e. manage results by creating groups),
  • clean and label data (i.e. add label or fields such as Name of Database to the data),
  • remove duplications of the search,
  • retrieve full-text of the results especially for OA articles (if available), 
  • share references with teammates,
  • and generate reference lists for manuscripts.

The resources listed below show how reference management tool can help with the SR process:

► Systematic Review Tool

Alternatively, you can use the SR tool to manage search results and remove duplicated record.


  • Covidence (fee based, CUHK library subscribed) is a widely used tool for managing systematic reviews.
  • Rayyan is a free tool that can be used for finding and removing duplicates, screening, and selecting studies for reviews.

Other SR tools which have similar functions are: