Systematic & scoping reviews

Document your search strategy

When you are conducting your searches, keep track of what you are doing by documenting your search process in enough detail to ensure that it can be reported correctly in the review.

Documentation of your search strategy should include:

  • databases used
  • date of search
  • dates of coverage provided by each database
  • search terms used
  • total publications found
  • number of relevant publications
  • limits applied

Saving searches in a database

It is also possible to save your search history within each database. In order to do this you need to set up a personal account in each relevant database. For details on how to set up an account, check the Help pages. Saving a search in a database will allow you to run the search again at a later date. You also have the option to create an alert for your search. For a demonstration of how to save searches in ProQuest watch our video Saving your search.


Alerts are an effective means of keeping track of the latest research. Many databases and journals offer free alert services through emails and RSS feeds. Types of alerts include:

  • Search alerts - this is a saved search which alerts you when a book or article that matches your search terms is published
  • Table of Contents (TOC) alert, which provides the table of contents of a newly published issue of a particular journal
  • Citation alerts which let you know when a particular article is cited by a new article.

Report your search strategy

How to report a search?

There are a number of places where searches can be reported. These include the appendix, the review abstract and the methods section. Below are some examples that show these different models:

PRISMA Statement

The updated PRISMA 2020 Statement was published in 2021 and consists of a checklist and a flow diagram. It is intended to be accompanied by the PRISMA 2020 Explanation and Elaboration document.

  • The PRISMA 2020 flow diagram can be used for further documentation of the number of records identified by database searching and through other sources. The flow diagram depicts the flow of information through the different phases of a systematic review. It maps out the number of records identified, included and excluded, and the reasons for exclusions. There are different templates available depending on the type of review and sources used. There is also an online PRISMA Diagram Generator, as well as a PRISMA flow diagram ShinyApp.

  • There is also a PRISMA for Searching extension (PRISMA-S) that was published in 2021. This checklist includes 16 reporting items, each of which is detailed with exemplar reporting and rationale.

PRISMA 2020 and PRISMA-S: common questions on tracking records and the flow diagram
This article reviews some of the common questions about using the PRISMA 2020 flow diagram and tracking records through the systematic review process


A useful reporting tool for qualitative studies is STARLITE.

Why report a search?

As stated in the article below “a complete description of the literature search, including the criteria used for the inclusion of reports after they have been located, used in a research synthesis or meta-analysis is critical if subsequent researchers are to accurately evaluate and reproduce a synthesis’ methods and results.” (Atkinson, Koenka, Sanchez, Moshontz, & Cooper, 2014).

Manage your search results

We recommend that you use a bibliographic management tool such as EndNote to manage your search results.

With EndNote you can:

  • export references from databases into your EndNote library
  • store full text PDFs
  • add your own research notes to references
  • insert citations into a Word document and have them formatted in your chosen referencing style
  • create a bibliography in a selected referencing style
  • organise your references into groups.

For further information see our EndNote guides.

EndNote training

The library holds EndNote training workshops. Please check the Library Workshops calendar for upcoming classes.