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ACAP Library Pathfinder: Systematic Searching for a Review

This guide provides a methodology for planning and creating a multi-database search strategy for students who are writing a review.

The Screening Process

During the screening process, you will scan through a large number of articles and other relevant sources, such as books, reports, and conference proceedings, to identify those that are potentially relevant to the research question or topic of interest. The inclusion and exclusion criteria for the screening process are also pre-defined based on the research question and objectives.

The screening process for a literature review typically involves these steps:

  • Pre-screening:   Record the number of results from each database/source before screening commences.
  • Deduplication:  Rayyan or Absrackr automates this process, but you can choose to deduplicate references within Zotero.
  • Title/abstract screening:  Scan through the title and abstract of articles and sources to identify those that meet your criteria. Again, software such as Rayyan and Abstrackr can assist with this process. 
  • Full-text screening:  This is a more in-depth assessment of the included full-text articles to determine their relevance to the research question or topic of interest.

You may want to create a checklist based on your PICO+ criteria along with the inclusion and exclusion criteria outlined when you began the review. This checklist can then be used to assess each article for selection. 

The screening process is often conducted in collaboration with co-researchers or with the help of your supervisor. The rigour with which the screening process is conducted may vary depending on the research question, the scope of the review, and available resources.

The details of this process should be recorded. You can use a combination of apps such as Rayyan, Zotero, the ACAP Library Search Tracker, and/or the PRISMA Flow Diagram to record the screening process and results.

Screening with Zotero

The article below describes a method for using Groups in EndNote to manage, screen, and appraise citations for your reviews. The same formula can be used with Zotero.  If using Zotero, you will use Collections and Sub-collections rather than Groups and Group Sets.  Groups in Zotero refer to the tool which allows you to remotely collaborate with project members. 

This article describes a novel approach for using EndNote to manage and code references in the conduct and reporting of systematic reviews and scoping reviews. The process is simple and easy for reviewers new to both EndNote and systematic reviews. This process allows reviewers to easily conduct and report systematic reviews in line with the internationally recognized PRISMA reporting guidelines and also facilitates the overall task of systematic or scoping review conduct and reporting from the initial search through to structuring the results, discussion, and conclusions in a rigorous, reproducible, and user-friendly manner.

Peters, M. D. J. (2017). Managing and coding references for systematic reviews and scoping reviews in EndNote. Medical Reference Services Quarterly36(1), 19–31.