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Systematic Review: Search the Literature

How to carry out a systematic review of the literature.

Search strategy


After defining your question, you now need to outline your search strategy. This is a description of the methods you will use to find the research relevant to your question. You need to decide on:

  • the types of information sources that you will search (e.g. bibliographic databases, grey literature)
  • the specific resources you will search (e.g. particular databases)
  • your search terms (keywords including synonyms, index terms) 
  • how you will filter the papers you have found using your inclusion criteria 
  • how you will report the results of your search.

Contact your Subject Librarian or use the Subject Guides to find out more about how to search these resources. 


Literature review

Searching for literature and understanding how that interlinks with writing up your findings and influencing new ideas for your research is a vital skill. The graphic below may help you to understand these processes and how they are inter-linked.

Saving your search strategy

You can save your search strategy in each database you use and re-run it at a later date. You can also set up alerts and be notified by email of new papers that match your search criteria.

Storing references

It is also useful at this point to decide how you will store the references you find. You may wish to use a reference management tool such as EndNote online or EndNote desktop

Literature searching

We also have a guide on how to search for literature using specialist databases which may be helpful at this stage.

PRISMA Flow Diagram

You may have seen in other systematic reviews a flow chart detailing the number of papers found at various stages of the search, and how they are filtered down to the final number used for the review. This is from a template available online from PRISMA.

Glasgow Caledonian University have detailed notes on how to complete the flow chart available as part of their SMILE online modules.

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