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Library Researcher Series: Lit Searching for Systematic Reviews

A drop-in workshop series offered by the University Library in Fall and Winter terms.

Handout with Adjacency Operators

Session Description: Literature Searching for Systematic Reviews

This session describes how a systematic review differs from other types of reviews (e.g., narrative reviews), how the literature searching process is unique, essential search skills and how to document the search.

For more information, please refer to

Overview of the Session

In this introductory session, we will introduce you to the basics of lliterature searching for systematic reviews.

  • Introductions
  • Types of Literature Reviews
  • Formulating a Question
  • Choosing Appropriate Databases
  • Developing Your Search Strategy
  • Extending Your Search
  • Validating Your Search
  • Documenting Your Search
  • Wrap Up and Questions

Formulating a Question

Breaking up your question into these 4 elements (which you can easily remember with the mnmeonic device PICO) will make your literature search process easier:

P:  Patient, population, &/or problem
  • Description of the patient, population and/or the target disorder of interest
  • What are the most important characteristics of the patient?
  • How would you describe a group of patients similar to yours?
  • What is the disorder and condition of interest?
I:  Intervention
  • Which intervention, prognostic factor, diagnostic tool, or exposure are you considering?

C:  Comparison intervention

  • What alternative do you want to compare with the intervention?
  • Examples: standard of care, reference standard, Placebo

O:  Outcome

  • What outcome you hope to accomplish or measure?


Other models you may wish to use for question formulation include:

Wildridge, V., & Bell, L. (2002). How CLIP became ECLIPSE: a mnemonic to assist in searching for health policy/management information. Health Information & Libraries Journal, 19(2), 113-115.

Schlosser, R. W., Koul, R., & Costello, J. (2007). Asking well-built questions for evidence-based practice in augmentative and alternative communication. Journal of Communication Disorders, 40(3), 225-238.

Booth, A. (2006). Clear and present questions: formulating questions for evidence based practice. Library hi tech, 24(3), 355-368.

Documenting A Search

The PRISMA diagram has become the standard mechanism for reporting the results of the literature search for systematic reviews.

The acronym STARLITE can assist in your description of your literature search:

•S – sample strategy
•T – types of studies
•A – approaches
•R – range of years
•L – limits
•I -  inclusion / exclusion criteria
•T – terms used
•E – electronic sources

Booth A. “Brimful of STARLITE”: Toward standards for reporting literature searches. J Med Libr Assoc. 2006;94(4):421–9.

Validating A Search

It is advisable to have a librarian validate your search in your primary database before you modify your search and continue searching in other databases.

Most librarians will use the "PRESS" checklist, to evaluate a search strategy.  You can find that checklist here:

McGowan, J., Sampson, M., & Lefebvre, C. (2010). An Evidence Based Checklist for the Peer Review of Electronic Search Strategies (PRESS EBC). Evidence Based Library And Information Practice, 5(1), 149-154. Retrieved from

Session Information

This session took place on September 30 from 12:00 - 1:00 PM in the Murray Library, Room 145, the Collaborative Learning Lab.

Documenting your Search

Manuals & Resources


Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions - online or print.  This is likely the single best source for systematic reviews.

Centre for Reviews and Dissemination (CRD), University of York, UK - see the section called "Our Guidance"

Additional Resources.

Grant & Booth (2009). A typology of reviews: an analysis of 14 review types and associated methodologies Health Information and Libraries Journal, 26, pp.91–108.

Powerpoint for Today's Session