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Systematic Reviews: Search

Basic information on types of "knowledge syntheses"/systematic reviews to help users plan the best review type, team, methods and have a clear sense of the expectations/responsibilities of performing these comprehensive literature review projects.

Term Harvesting

Database Selection

Commonly Required for Health Sciences

Specialized Databases

  • BIOSIS for bioscience/basic sciences 
  • CINAHL for Nursing or Allied Health (OT, PT, SLP, HSA) - in the Ebsco suite of databases
  • IPA for pharmacology

Multidisciplinary Databases

  • Web of Science
  • Academic Search Premier - in the Ebsco suite of databases

Hand Searching


  1. Select 1 or 2 journals on topics related to the review question
  2. Scan at least Tables of Content of several issues in your publication date range of  selected journals for possibly-missed studies

See the Cochrane Handbook or HL Wiki Canada for information on scanning electronic versions.


  1. Captures publications in journals not indexed in databases
  2. Catches formats/sections of journals not indexed in databases: news, supplements, editorials, letters, conference proceedings


What it is:

Tracking citations from one article to another:

  • Backtracking = checking reference lists of selected articles to locate other articles of importance
  • Forward tracking = investigating articles that cited a selected article
  • ID important articles predating online literature databases or not indexed in them
  • Locate newer literature
  • Understand connections as literature on topic developed
  • Identify experts/authors who publish most on topic

Grey literature sources

"Grey literature" refers to formats that are not published in the traditional book/journal medium or indexed in bibliographic databases.

Studies have shown that articles with positive results from respected institutions by well-known authors in English or from a developed country are more likely to be published than other articles. Seeking grey literature helps ensure that the results of a comprehensive review are as objective and free from of this publication bias as possible.  Formats include:


  • Clinical Trials (US NIH)
  • NIH RePORTER UF NIH-only trials. Search by project start/end date, funding mechanism, country, PI, publications. Results include link to "similar projects".
  • World Health Organization's International Clinical Trials Registry Platform search by condition, intervention, recruitment status or countries, primary sponsor, phase.
  • ISRCTN Register proposed, ongoing or comleted Browse by body system or Advanced search for condition, internention, funder, etc.
  • Center Watch Industry-support global clinical trials. Patient focus. Started 1994.
  • Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry - voluntary registriaton, publicly owned, managed by non-profit., trials in A/NZ "or elsewhere". Search by intervention or allocation type, gender, age, countries, sponsorship, funding type, phase, registration/trial start dates. Pharmaceuticals, surgical procedures, preventive measures, lifestyle, devices, complementary therapies, tx and rehab strategies.
  • EU Clinical Trials Register open and closed interventional clinical trials in EU or European Economic Area or outside of those but linked to European pediatric medicine. Advanced Search's Search Tools allows limiting by age range, trial status or phase, gender, date range, with or without results.


  • Web of Science database on HSCL Databases Page in Quick Picks table at top of page - search topic, then in left sidebar of results, look under Document Types, perhaps its More Options, click Proceedings or Proceedings Papers, then click Refine.
  • ProceedingsFirst database on ALL HSCL databases page




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