Systematic reviews and meta-analyses: a step-by-step guide

Step 4

Perform your search (locate and select studies)


This can be complex, and requires searching in different databases (which each require different search strategies) as well as locating non-published studies e.g. by contacting experts in the field, or hand-searching conference proceedings (see presentation on Systematic Literature Searching Sheila Fisken).  Seek advice directly from your librarian (for the University of Edinburgh, contact Sheila Fisken) and/or attend an online or in-person course (e.g. at WTCRF,, or library). If you are doing a Cochrane review you should follow their specific guidance.

You will also need to become familiar with reference management software (e.g. RefMan, EndNote, Mendeley [Wikipedia compares many of the available products here]) to allow you to manage your searches, and also to make writing the final paper easier.

By screening the title and/or abstract you will be able to reject many of the papers you identified as not fulfilling your inclusion criteria. You should then generate a ‘long-list’ of all the papers you need to read in more detail (err on the side of over-inclusion). Retrieve these from the library from e-journals, by copying the paper original, or request an inter-library loan. Keep a record of why you reject each one (to allow you to fill in the PRISMA flowchart, see later). Ideally, this should be done by two researchers independently (it is very easy to miss one or two articles when screening large numbers), and disputes settled between you, or with discussion with a third person.


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