Skip to Main Content
ACAP Student Portal Schedule Appointments Room Bookings Contact Us
Search and Discover








My MultiSearch Login Advanced Search Google Scholar PubMed A-Z Journals A-Z Databases

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.

Documenting the Search Strategy

Before you begin searching, consider how you are going to record the process. The PRISMA-S extension for reporting searches includes a 16 point checklist which aims to assist in the reporting of systemised searches for review articles. You may choose to use part or all of the criteria in this list or you may choose to use the Search Tracker, which has been developed by the ACAP Library to assist you. 

Each database will allow you to copy and paste or, in some cases save and download, search histories. These can then be transposed into the Search Tracker, a Word document, or your own Excel spreadsheet (see the Save & Organise Research guide for more information). You may also want to use Reference Management Software such as Zotero to save and manage results, articles PDFs, and to collaborate with others. 

For each database searched record the following elements:

  • Date of the search
  • Database name (e.g. PsycArticles)
  • Platform/database vendor (e.g. EbscoHost)  
  • Time period (date range of the search)
  • Keywords used and how these were combined in the search
  • Filters used
  • Database limits applied
  • Number of studies identified
  • Number of studies used in the review. 

When reporting, include the details of other resources searched such as grey literature, citation searching, and registries.  

You may also need to record the selection, deduplication and appraisal processes along with the software used to perform these functions. 

Using Search Tracker

The ACAP Library Search Tracker is an Excel spreadsheet that provides a template to plan, organise and retrieve your searches across multiple academic databases and other literature sources. 

The following pages in this guide will help you fill out the relevant sections of the Search Tracker. 

We've provided some example search strings in the EbscoHost tab of the template. Note that you will not be able to replicate exactly the same search over all databases listed. 

The tracker allows you to record how you searched along with the results you retrieved so that you can replicate and document search strategies at a later date. 

Using the Tabs

Start Search: Enter your thesis statement or question at the top of the page. Links to filters (hedges) are provided to help you discover search terms. Use the PICO template to start constructing search criteria. 

Search Results Summary: Summarise search results and comment on the effectiveness of your searches, or keep track of all of the database accounts you have created. 

Database tabs: Use one tab for each database you search. You can add or edit these tabs if the ones used are not listed. We've provided some examples in the EbscoHost tab which you can remove and replace. If you need help transposing searches from databases into the Search Tracker please ask your campus librarian. 

Grey Literature: Use this tab to keep track of searches for grey literature. 

Key authors and Papers: Use this tab to note key authors and papers most relevant to your research. This may help you conduct more focused searches at a later time.