Searching literature systematically is useful for all types of literature reviews!
However, if you are writing a systematic literature review the search needs to be particularly well planned and structured to ensure it is:
These help ensure bias is eliminated and the review is methodologically sound.
To achieve the above goals, you will need to:
The first step in developing your search strategy is identifying the key concepts your research question covers.
Use an iterative process to identify useful search terms for conducting your search.
Using a concept map or a mind map may help you clarify concepts and the relationships between or within concepts. Watch these YouTube videos for some ideas:
What is the relationship between adverse childhood experiences and depression in mothers during the perinatal period?
adverse childhood experiences
|OR ACE||OR postpartum depression||OR women|
|OR childhood trauma||OR postnatal depression|
|OR maternal mental health|
|OR maternal psychological distress|
Revise your strategy/search terms until:
See Creating search strings for information on how to enter your search terms into databases.
Example search string (using Scopus's Advanced search option) for the terms in the above table:
(TITLE-ABS-KEY("advserse childhood experienc*" OR ACE OR "childhood trauma") AND TITLE-ABS-KEY("perinatal depress*" OR "postpartum depress*" OR "postnatal depress*" OR "maternal mental health" OR "maternal psychological distress") AND TITLE-ABS-KEY(mother* OR women*))
See Subject headings for information on including these database specific terms to your search terms.
Systematic reviewers usually use several databases to search for literature. This ensures that the searching is comprehensive and biases are minimised.
Use both subject-specific and multidisciplinary databases to find resources relevant to your research question:
Check for databases in your subject area via the Databases tab > Find by subject on the library homepage.
Find the key databases that are often used for systematic reviews in this guide.
Test searches to determine database usefulness. You can consult your Liaison Librarians to finalise the list of databases for your review.
For all systematic reviews we recommend using Scopus, a high-quality, multidisciplinary database:
For systematic reviews within the health/biomedical field, we recommend including Medline as one of the databases for your review:
MEDLINE (via Ebsco, via Ovid, via PubMed)
Note: PubMed contains all of Medline and additional citations, e.g. books, manuscripts, citations that predate Medline.
To ensure your search is comprehensive you may need to search beyond academic databases when conducting a systematic review, particularly to find grey literature (literature not published commercially and outside traditional academic sources such as journals).
Google Scholar contains academic resources across disciplines and sources types. These come from academic publishers, professional societies, online repositories, universities and web sites.
Use Google Scholar
You can limit your search to the type of websites by using site:ac.nz; site:edu
Note that Google Scholar searches are not as replicable or transparent as academic database searches, and may find large numbers of results.
Watch our Finding grey literature video (3.49 mins) online.