Cooper C, Booth A, Britten N, Garside R. "A comparison of results of empirical studies of supplementary search techniques and recommendations in review methodology handbooks: a methodological review." Syst Rev. 2017; 6(1): 234.

Reviewer(s): 
Short description: 

The purpose and contribution of supplementary search methods in systematic reviews is increasingly acknowledged. Numerous studies have demonstrated their potential in identifying studies or study data that would have been missed by bibliographic database searching alone. What is less certain is how supplementary search methods actually work, how they are applied, and the consequent advantages, disadvantages and resource implications of each search method. The aim of this study is to compare current practice in using supplementary search methods with methodological guidance.

Limitations stated by the author(s): 

The date range and age of the handbooks and studies included in this review could be considered a limitation of this study.

Comparative and non-comparative case studies form the evidence base for this study. The studies included in this review have been taken at face-value, and no formal quality appraisal has been undertaken since no suitable tool exists.

Furthermore, supplementary search methods are typically evaluated in the context of effectiveness, which is potentially a limited test of the contribution they may offer in the process of study identification. Different thresholds of effectiveness and efficiency may apply in the use of supplementary search methods in systematic reviews of qualitative studies when compared to reviews of RCTs, for example.

Whilst we have aimed to comprehensively identify and review studies for inclusion, the use of supplementary search methods is a broad field of study and it is possible that some completed studies may have been inadvertently missed or overlooked. It is possible that standard systematic review techniques, such as double-screening, would have minimised this risk, but we are confident that, whilst a more systematic approach may have improved the rigour of the study, it is unlikely to alter the conclusions below.