Skip to Main Content

Systematic Review

Create database accounts

Before you begin searching databases, create a user account whenever this is an option and login to the database.

This enables you to use the following tools for editing and managing search results:

  • Save searches - useful as you develop your search strategy
  • Set alerts - for new documents added to the database for your saved search

Search strings

Creating search strings

Check the database help page for instructions on formatting and entering search strings as this can vary by database.

  • Use appropriate search techniques for your topic
  • Take care with spelling (and variant spellings)
    • Keyword searching: matches the exact spelling you entered within the search fields, enabling precision
    • Some databases have Free Text searching: keyword and automatic word association (database curated matching).

You will usually have options for how you enter your search terms. Choose the one that best suits you/your search, for example:

  • Multi-field search: enter your search terms on mulitple lines, combining all your concepts in one search. Most multi-field searches default to an AND between lines and you can use OR within a line to find synonyms.
  • Combined search: enter your search terms one concept at a time (in single or multi-field search screens), and run a search for each concept. Then combine these searches together at the end.
  • Advanced search: enter your search terms as a whole search string, selecting field codes and operators, and run as one search.

A Field is a specific part of a database record. You can choose to search specific fields, for example an “Abstract field” search means the database will only search the Abstracts for your search terms (ignoring title, keywords etc). The default fields searched vary by database.

Examples of search options in Scopus

Three lines of keywords, each line connected with AND, searching within the default fields Article title, Abstract, Keywords.

Three searches conducted, then #1 AND #2 AND #3 combined, resulting in #4 

Enter the full search string, including selected operators and field codes (TITLE-ABS-KEY)

Translate search syntax across databases

The following tools could be used to translate search strings across some databases. Because every database is different, you may not be able to exactly replicate your search using these tools, especially when Subject Headings search is used.

Key databases

Database differences

Because databases are hosted on different publisher platforms there are differences in how they look and operate.  View the help sections of your chosen databases for details. Differences between databases include:

  • The search option the database opens on (the default search) and other search options
  • Search syntax (e.g. truncation symbols, proximity commands)
  • Subject headings
  • How to refine searches
  • How to save and edit searches
  • How to export searches to reference managers


Quick Summary






Advanced search

using field codes

Truncation Proximity Subject Headings



* N#

 Vary by databases;

Using subject thesaurus



* ADJ#


American Psychological Association Index (PsycINFO) & others

Scopus *



No subject headings, other than

MeSH in MEDLINE content

PubMed *  MeSH Headings
IEEE explore

Command search




INSPEC terms
ACM * ACM computer science terms
Emerald * NEAR
Google Scholar

Adv. search



May use


Key databases for systematic reviews

Click a database below to find a brief overview for the database. Go to the database to find more online guides or tutorials if you wish. 

The EBSCO search platform hosts several subject specific databases. The following EBSCO databases may be used for systematic reviews:

  • Art & Architecture Complete
  • Art Full text
  • Business Source Complete
  • CINAHL Complete
  • Communication & Mass Media Complete
  • Hospitality & Tourism Complete
  • SocINDEX with Full text
  • SPORTDiscus with Full Text

Search options

  • Default search: ​​​​Multi-field search (Advanced Search)
    • The default search field is "Select a Field" which searches Author, Subjects, Keywords, Titles and Abstracts. When an abstract is not available, the first 1,500 characters of the HTML full text of the article are searched 
    • Specific field search options are available for each search line
    • Can select additional options under the Search Options section
  • Single line search (Basic search): free text search, Boolean operator (AND, OR, NOT) can be used  
  • Combined search: available on the "Search history" page

Advanced search example:

Display abstract

  • Click the icon to find individual abstract popups
  • Change the "Page options" to "Detailed": abstracts will display in the list of results

Search guide

  • On EBSCO search page, click Help to find more details about how to conduct a basic or advanced search. 
  • Watch this online tutorial for MEDLINE 

The OVID search platform hosts several subject specific databases which could be used for systematic reviews:

  • AMED
  • Cochrane Library
  • ERIC
  • Joanna Briggs
  • Medline
  • PsycINFO

Search options

  • Default search: Single field keyword searching (Advanced Search)
    • The default search fields vary from database to database, but commonly includes Title, Abstract, Keywords
    • Author, and Title search are separate selectable options
    • Map term to Subject Headings is another selectable option
  • Multi-field Search: each search line can apply specific field options
  • Combining previous searches is possible through the on-page Search History

Default search (Advanced search) example: 

Display abstract

OVID has a global Display abstract function:

Search guide:

  • On the top right corner of the OVID search page, click Help for details on how to construct a search within OVID

A citation database indexes good quality academic journal articles, conference papers and books. Subjects covered: science, technology, medicine, business, social science and humanities. 

Search options

  • Default search: Multi-field keyword search
    • Use the Add Search Field function to add more search lines
    • The Default search field is Title, Abstract, and Keywords
    • Each search line can apply specific field search options
  • Author search searches for individual authors by institution and is very precise
  • Advanced Document Search: a single-field search using a query string with field codes and boolean operators
  • Truncation
    • ? represents any single character. Example: wom?n retrieves both woman and women
    • * represents any number of characters, even zero. Example: work* finds work, worker, worked, working, etc. *carbon* returns carbon, hydrocarbon, carbonate, etc.
  • Lemmatization: singular and plural forms, and adjectives, will be found automatically if you type any of the variants.
  • Search for a phrase
    • Loose phrase - use "xxx"
    • Exact phrase - use {xxx}
  • Proximity search operators
    • Pre/n: The first search term must be no more that (n) words apart from the second search term
    • W/n: search terms are separated by up to that (n) words of each other. It doesn’t matter which term comes before the other
  • Search History: available on the Advanced Document Search page. Can combine search results from this page
Default search example:

Display abstract

Scopus has a global Display abstract function on the results page:


Search guide

PubMed contains all Medline content, and additional citations, e.g. books, manuscripts, and citations that predate Medline.

Search options

  • Default search: Single-field keyword search
  • Advanced search is a constructed (combined) multi field search, with field seach options available for each part of the search
    • Search History is found on the Advanced search page
  • Combined search: combining results search is available on the Advanced search page
Default search example:

Advanced search example:

Display abstract

PubMed's default summary displays the first few lines of abstract, additionally the Display Options menu has a global Abstract view. 

Search guide

The PubMed User Guide has useful information on how to construct searches within PubMed.

IEEE Explore is a key database for engineering and computer sciences.

Search options

  • Basic search: a single line search option.
  • Advanced: provides a guided search with lines to enter concept terms and select the search parameters includingINSPEC terms, keywords assigned to articles from a controlled vocabulary of over 10,000 scientific terms created by INSPEC
  • Command: construct a Boolean search using data fields and operators. There is a maximum of 20 search terms allowed. This may restrict its usefulness for your review. You can save searches and combine them if this is an issue.
Advanced Search example:

"Pain management" AND ("mobile application*" OR "mobile technology" OR "mobile intervention*" OR "monitoring system*") AND (self-care OR self-management OR healthcare OR mhealth)

Search guide

Check the search tips and examples.

Emerald Insight provides academic articles for business and management studies, education, engineering, construction management and built environment, etc.

Search options

  • Single search box: keyword search using Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT)
  • Advanced Search:a  Multi-field search option using Boolean operators to construct your search

Advanced search example:

(“offsite manufacture” OR “offsite manufacturing” OR “off-site manufacturing” OR “offsite production” OR “offsite construction” OR prefabrication OR prefabricated) AND (lean OR agile OR simulation) 

Search guide

Check Emerald's Search guides for more information. 

ACM Digital Library provides valuable resources for computing and mathematics. It includes journals, conference proceedings, technical magazines, newsletters and books hosted by ACM.

Search options

  • Default Search: single search box, can use Boolean operators
  • Advanced Search: multi-field search, able to select search fields
  • Searches can be expanded to include a comprehensive bibliographic database, ACM Guide to Computing Literature.

The ACM Computing Classification System, a de facto standard classification for computing, is integrated into the search capabilities, and can be browsed.

ACM Digital Library Advanced Search and tips.

Advanced Search example:

Google Scholar could be used to find publications that are not covered by academic databases, especially when a research area has had limited publications.

Search Options

  • Default Search: a single search box, it is important to prepare a well structured Boolean search string for use this search option
  • Advanced Search: use it when you need to restrict terms to the title, or find publications by specific authors or in specific journals
Advanced Search example:


  • You can restrict your search to country domains such as .nz, or types of websites, such as for New Zealand universities.

Records can be saved to your Google Scholar account (My Library) and exported to a reference manager for screening.

Managing search results

Save search history

  • Create an account for each database that will be used for your project
  • Save search history for each search stage and in each database used. This enables you to run the same search or edit your search when it is needed
  • Note down the location and the title of search history saved in each database. Some databases allow saving search histories in folders.  

Set database alerts

An alert is a regular automatic email notification. A search alert tells the database to rerun your search at a set frequency to find new documents added to the database since the last search.

To set a search alert:

  • Save your search in the database
  • Find the set alert function and fill in the details to set an alert
  • Details of new documents on your research topic will be emailed to you 

See Database alerts for examples of setting alerts in Scopus, EBSCO and Google Scholar.  

Use a reference manager

  • Using a reference manager enables you to export your search results from databases and manage your references. 
  • EndNote is widely used at AUT. See our EndNote for PC or EndNote for Mac guide to learn about using EndNote.
  • EndNote or other reference software may also be used for screening items after database searching. This brief instruction may give you some ideas about using EndNote for systematic reviews.

Record your results

Remember to keep a detailed record of your search results. Find more information from the page Recording SR process.