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Systematic Reviews: Search strategy

A Synthesis and Evaluation of existing evidence

Search Strategy

A search strategy is a systematic plan or approach developed to retrieve relevant information from databases, search engines, or other sources in order to address a specific research question or objective. It involves selecting appropriate search terms, applying Boolean operators, and utilizing search techniques to maximize the effectiveness and efficiency of the literature search process. Here's an overview of what constitutes a search strategy:

  1. Formulation of Research Question or Objective: The search strategy begins with clearly defining the research question or objective of the study. This provides the foundation for identifying relevant search terms and structuring the search process.

  2. Identification of Keywords and Controlled Vocabulary Terms: Search terms are selected based on their relevance to the research question and may include keywords, phrases, or concepts related to the topic of interest. Controlled vocabulary terms, such as Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) in PubMed, are standardized terms used to index and retrieve articles in databases.

  3. Expansion of Search Terms: To ensure comprehensive coverage of the literature, search terms may be expanded to include synonyms, alternate spellings, acronyms, abbreviations, and related terms. This helps capture variations in terminology used across different studies.

  4. Utilization of Boolean Operators: Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT) are used to connect or combine search terms to refine search results.

    • AND: Retrieves records containing all specified search terms, narrowing down the search results.
    • OR: Retrieves records containing any of the specified search terms, broadening the search results.
    • NOT: Excludes records containing specific search terms, further refining the search results.
  5. Application of Search Filters and Limits: Search filters and limits may be applied to restrict the search results based on criteria such as publication date, study type, language, and study population. This helps focus the search on relevant studies meeting predefined criteria.

  6. Integration of Search Terms and Operators: Search terms, Boolean operators, and search filters are integrated into a coherent search string or query format. The search string is structured to effectively retrieve relevant literature while minimizing irrelevant or duplicate results.

  7. Testing and Refinement: The search strategy is tested and refined iteratively to optimize its effectiveness. This may involve running test searches, reviewing search results, and adjusting search terms or strategies as needed to improve retrieval of relevant studies.

  8. Documentation and Reporting: The final search strategy is documented in detail, including the search string, databases searched, search dates, and any search filters or limits applied. This documentation ensures transparency and reproducibility of the literature search process.

Overall, a well-designed search strategy is critical for conducting a systematic and comprehensive literature search, enabling researchers to identify and retrieve relevant evidence to address their research question or objective effectively.