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Knowledge Synthesis & Systematic Reviews

Part 2: Building Your Systematic Review Step By Step

Setting Up A Systematic Review

Setting Up a Systematic Review Search


 All knowledge synthesis products, such as systematic reviews, scoping reviews, rapid review etc, require that that you follow methodological guidelines and reporting standards in document how the research was completed. This requires extensive documentation, particularly as reviews can take years to complete, and you may not remember all the details that go into completing a review. Setting up your projects with these standards in mind right from the start will make this process much easier.

Examples of Reporting Standards

Setting Up Accounts

Setting Up Database Accounts

Set up personal accounts in every database or resource that you use for your systematic review. Doing this will allow you to:

  • Modify draft searches over time
  • Save your final searches
  • Rerun your searches as needed for updates
  • Set up alerts to be notified of new articles

Look for a link that says Personal Account / Create an Account / My Account in each resource and follow the steps involved to create a personal account. As you work on your draft searches make make sure to save your progress.

These accounts are separate from your UMNetID and library password. Make sure you note down what you have used for your username and password for each resource.

sample draft search names TIP: Some databases are owned by the same vendor so you only have to create one account to work in many databases (e.g., creating an Ovid account allows you to save searches in MEDLINE, Embase, IPA, Global Health etc). Make sure you save your searches with the name of the specific database included (e.g., Sample Search Medline March 6 2022)



What To Document

What to Document

In addition to required documentation (see Reporting Standards above) it is also important to note other information for your own record keeping. Using a search log (see Resources) to note down:

  • Keywords (both keywords used in the final search and any keywords that were tested out but not used)
  • Subject terms (both subject terms used in the final search and any keywords that were tested out but not used)
  • Explanations for why keywords or subject terms were not used (e.g., X term was too broad; Y term did not capture relevant results)
  • Names of databases searched
  • Number of results found for each search in each database
  • Number of results after deduplication
  • Any relevant papers that MUST be found in your final search set

Resources from 'Systematic Approaches to a Successful Literature Review'

Resources from 'Systematic Approaches to a Successful Literature Review'

  • source tracker template to help you keep track of your sources and know what you need to include in your audit trail.
  • project diary template and example so you can start your project with an organized approach and track your insights along the way.
  • literature review starter template to demonstrate the sections you need to include for a successful written review.
  • Data extraction templates to identify the most important information to pull out from qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods studies.

For more tools and resources visit: Systematic Approaches to a Successful Literature Review (Booth, Sutton, Clowes, Martyn-St James, 2022)