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Knowledge Synthesis & Systematic Reviews

Part 3: Advanced Searching

Our 2024 workshop video will be available shortly.

Step 1: Choose Your Sources



The University of Manitoba subscribes to databases that cover a wide variety of topic areas. Check the complete list, or check subject specific U of M Library toolkits for ideas on which databases to use for your topic.


Grey Literature

Grey literature is literature that is not usually published in journals and monographs or indexed in commercial databases and catalogues. It consists of:

  • hard to find studies;
  • reports, dissertations, conference abstracts or conference papers;
  • governmental or private sector research;
  • clinical trials - ongoing or unpublished and experts and researchers in the field
  • communication with experts in the subject area

These sources can yield information not found in the published databases. 

U of M Library toolkits, are available on the library home page. Toolkits are subject specific and may include links to grey literature on that subject. CADTH also has a helpful checklist to use when searching the grey literature, Grey Matters: A practical search tool for evidence-based medicine. Other sources of grey literature include:

Clinical Trial Registries

*Information and links on this section came from the NIH Systematic Review Library Guide 

Step 2: Break Down Your Question

You can use a question framework, like PICO or SPIDER, to help you determine your research question. Now you have to identify the main elements to search for, and figure out the subject headings and keywords you're going to use.

ProTip: if you used PICO, you generally don't search for the O (outcome) to avoid introducing bias into the search. The same goes for the E (evaluation) if you used SPICE or SPIDER, and the E (expectation) if you used Eclipse.

Question: Can exercise positively impact tobacco cessation?

P: Tobacco cessation
I: Exercise
C: None
O: Positive impact (improve cessation)

Concepts to search:

Concept Subject Headings Keywords (free text)
Quitting smoking     





Step 3: Do the Search


Concept Subject Headings Keywords (free text)
Quitting smoking


Tobacco use cessation/
Smoking cessation/
Exp Smoking/
“Tobacco Use Disorder”/

 "tobacco cessation"

"smoking cessation"

("giv* up" adj2 (smok* or vaping))

(quit* adj2 (smok* or vaping))

(stop* adj2 (smok* or vaping)) 



Exp Exercise/
Exp Exercise Movement Techniques/     
Exp Exercise Therapy/

"working out"
"tai ji"
"tai chi"


"endurance training"

"resistance training"

Pro tips:

Step 5: Translate The Search

Attend Part 4 of our Systematic Review Workshop Series that discusses translating the search for use in other databases in detail.

Step 4: Save the Search

  • Save the search using a personal account with the database 
  • Save the complete search histories for each database you use as part of your documentation. You'll need them for reporting as per the PRISMA and PRISMA-S reporting standards.

Additional Resources - Some Sources of Search Filters

Search filters can also be found in published journal articles. You can find filters for specific topics by doing a literature search.