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Systematic Reviews

An introduction to systematic reviews, with examples from health sciences and medicine

Records & Results

We recommend saving your current strategy to your database account.

Database providers offer the option of creating a personal account:

  • In Ovid databases such as Medline, select My Account
  • In EBSCOHost databases such as CINAHL select Sign In
  • In Proquest databases such as Proquest Dissertations and Theses Global select Sign into My research
  • In  Web of Science select Register or Sign In

Once signed in you can save a search strategy to rerun at a later date, or set the frequency of automatic updates.

It's best practice to log the database name, description, latest update/version and search date for every search.

Paste your search history (including steps in the strategy and interim results) to a document.

SportDiscus history

Medline history

Select and set up reference management software, such as EndNote, ahead of your search. If you are using EndNote on your desktop we recommend setting up a new library for your results.

When you search, download citation, abstract and keywords or subject headings to enable preliminary screening on the basis of the record. 

It's helpful to save each database's results to a new EndNote group - this is not essential but is good practice in case you wish to delete the results of a search and rerun it. It's also a useful way of maintaining a visible trail of results for later summary in a PRISMA flowchart. 

Plan ahead on how you're going to manage your files and records while deduplicating, applying inclusion and exclusion criteria, and critically appraising your items.

You can manage your workflow with EndNote groups. Alternatively, Covidence is software designed for teams working together on systematic reviews. And other software is available.

Some researchers use deduplication wizards in their reference management software. However in the case of EndNote this results in deleting records, changing the numbers of items in each group. An alternative is to create an overarching group of groups - your total search results - copying the entire contents to a new group to act as a workfile - then deduplicating manually by removing records from the workfile group.

You may choose to acquire the full text of documents after initially screening out items that are obviously unsuitable or irrelevant. The full paper can be assessed in more detail  against your inclusion and exclusion criteria. If you are using EndNote, It will be helpful to attach the pdfs to your records.

You may also consider inserting the inclusion and exclusion criteria checklist into a notes field in each EndNote record. You may also wish to group the appraised items by the reasons for rejection.

You might also want to incorporate a data extraction form into your EndNote record or another program.

How to create a checklist or form in EndNote records

You may sometimes wish to perform the same editing operation on a number of references in your EndNote library, i.e. to make a global change. For example, you may want to enter, delete or add to the data in a particular field. Rather than do this one reference at a time, you can do it in one step using the Tools>>Change/Move/Copy Fields function.

In this exercise, we will choose all references in one EN group and add an inclusion/exclusion checklist to the Research Notes field of each one.

  • Highlight all the references in the group you wish to operate on. To do this, click the first reference to highlight it then hold down the CTRL key and press A.
  • Click References>>Show Selected References.
  • Click Tools >>Change/Move/Copy Fields.
  • Select the Change Fields tab and then choose the field you wish to change from the drop-down list, in this case: Research Notes.
  • Select Replace whole field with: and type your checklist in the box on the right. Use the Insert Special option to add a carriage return at the end of each line.
  • Click OK. EndNote will ask you to confirm the changes.

Image of EndNote operation
Adapted from notes at http://library.aut.ac.nz/?a=151875 27 Sept 2016

When you have screened the results and critically appraised them, narrowing the field to the documents to include in your meta-analysis or synthesis, you can populate a flowchart with the numbers of records remaining at each stage.

The PRISMA protocol suggests a flowchart schematic.

PRISMA flowchart

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