Defining the process to literature searching in systematic reviews: a literature review of guidance and supporting studies.

TitleDefining the process to literature searching in systematic reviews: a literature review of guidance and supporting studies.
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2018
AuthorsCooper C, Booth A, Varley-Campbell J, Britten N, Garside R
JournalBMC medical research methodology
Date Published2018 Aug 14
AbstractBACKGROUND: Systematic literature searching is recognised as a critical component of the systematic review process. It involves a systematic search for studies and aims for a transparent report of study identification, leaving readers clear about what was done to identify studies, and how the findings of the review are situated in the relevant evidence. Information specialists and review teams appear to work from a shared and tacit model of the literature search process. How this tacit model has developed and evolved is unclear, and it has not been explicitly examined before. The purpose of this review is to determine if a shared model of the literature searching process can be detected across systematic review guidance documents and, if so, how this process is reported in the guidance and supported by published studies. METHOD: A literature review. Two types of literature were reviewed: guidance and published studies. Nine guidance documents were identified, including: The Cochrane and Campbell Handbooks. Published studies were identified through 'pearl growing', citation chasing, a search of PubMed using the systematic review methods filter, and the authors' topic knowledge. The relevant sections within each guidance document were then read and re-read, with the aim of determining key methodological stages. Methodological stages were identified and defined. This data was reviewed to identify agreements and areas of unique guidance between guidance documents. Consensus across multiple guidance documents was used to inform selection of 'key stages' in the process of literature searching. RESULTS: Eight key stages were determined relating specifically to literature searching in systematic reviews. They were: who should literature search, aims and purpose of literature searching, preparation, the search strategy, searching databases, supplementary searching, managing references and reporting the search process. CONCLUSIONS: Eight key stages to the process of literature searching in systematic reviews were identified. These key stages are consistently reported in the nine guidance documents, suggesting consensus on the key stages of literature searching, and therefore the process of literature searching as a whole, in systematic reviews. Further research to determine the suitability of using the same process of literature searching for all types of systematic review is indicated.
Alternate JournalBMC Med Res Methodol