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University of Wollongong Australia

Systematic Review

How the Library can help when you're conducting a systematic review

Transferring your search

Once you have tested and settled on a search strategy, you will need to replicate that search across all the databases selected for your systematic review. 

Your search should be as similar as possible between each database, but you may need to adapt it depending on the functions within each database. This is especially the case when you move your search into a database with a controlled vocabulary such as MeSH.

Things to consider in transferring your search strategy:

  • Does the database use a controlled vocabulary? If so, have you checked the terms? (e.g. MEDLINE's MeSH uses the term 'Patient Handoff', whereas CINAHL uses the term "Hand Off (Patient Safety)")
  • How does the database use the controlled vocabulary? (e.g. in MEDLINE you have to choose to explode MeSH terms, PubMed automatically explodes all MeSH terms unless you specify. Instructions to switch off explode in PubMed: https://www.nlm.nih.gov/bsd/disted/meshtutorial/searchingpubmedusingmeshtags/index.html)
  • Where is the database searching for your words? Do you need to alter this? (e.g. most databases search in Title/Abstract/Keywords by default, but some databases search the full text)
  • Does the database support truncation? (e.g. PubMed does not support truncation, meaning you would need to spell out the variations in the ending of your key terms when transferring into PubMed)
  • Have you checked the help menu in each database to confirm which symbols are used? (e.g. some databases use ? as a wildcard, while another may use a different symbol)

As database content can overlap, retrieving the same article in different databases can let you know your search is consistent. 

Video example: Transferring your search across MEDLINE, CINAHL, Scopus and Web of Science

This video provides an extensive overview of transferring your search between a range of medical and non-medical databases. The time markers 0:00 - 11:10 will show you MeSH and subject headings in Medline and CINAHL. Time markers 11:11 - 13:20 shows how to transfer that search into Scopus and Web of Science.