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EPIB 619 Systematic Reviews & Meta-Analyses

Selecting databases to search

Need help choosing which databases to search for a health sciences review? 

Chapter four of the Cochrane Handbook states that it is mandatory to search CENTRAL, MEDLINE, and Embase for all Cochrane reviews (4.3.1.1). Other databases are also suggested in the technical supplement to chapter 4, particularly if you are performing region- or subject-specific searches covered in more specialized databases (e.g., CINAHL, PsycINFO, or regional databases).

Bramer et al. (2017) recommend searching the following based on their analyses: Embase, Ovid MEDLINE ALL, Web of Science Core Collection, and the first 200 records in Google Scholar. Keep in mind that Web of Science Core Collection may include different indices depending on the institutional subscription. 

Large, multidisciplinary citation databases are certainly worth considering, particularly if studies on your topic are likely to be found across many disciplines.

Core databases

This table lists some of the differences between the core databases used in health sciences.

Database (Platform) Subject coverage Publication types included Dates covered
MEDLINE (Ovid) / PubMed Primary biomedical database for health care research; we recommend searching MEDLINE on the Ovid platform (enhanced options for searching) or via PubMed (free platform) Journal articles, editorials 1946 to present
CINAHL (EBSCOhost) Extensive coverage of nursing and allied health, including nursing and rehabilitation journals not covered by MEDLINE Journal articles, editorials, trade magazines 1937 to present
CENTRAL (Cochrane Library) CENTRAL is a sub-database (identified as Trials) in the Cochrane Library and contains records of randomized and quasi-randomized studies. The majority of the records come from MEDLINE and Embase but records from CINAHL and KoreaMed are also included, along with trial records from ClinicalTrials.gov, ICTRP, and additional records from handsearching and those flagged in the Cochrane Review Groups' Specialized Registers. Journal articles, records from clinical trial registries Earliest available to present
Embase Classic + Embase (Ovid) European coverage in biomedicine, rehabilitation, pharmacology Journal articles, editorials, conferences 1947 to present
PsycINFO (Ovid) Excellent resource for research on psychological, social, behavioural, and mental health questions Journal articles, books, book chapters, & dissertations 1806 to present
Scopus Multidisciplinary citation database; "largest database" of peer-reviewed article records covering the arts, medicine, science, social sciences, and technology Journal articles, books, conference proceedings 1823 to present
Web of Science Core Collection Multidisciplinary citation database; McGill coverage includes the Science Citation Index Expanded 1900- (SCI-EXPANDED), Social Sciences Citation Index 1956- (SSCI), Arts & Humanities Citation Index 1975- (A&HCI), Conference Proceedings Citation Index-Science 1900- (CPCI-S), Conference Proceedings Citation Index-Social Science & Humanities 1900- (CPCI-SSH), and the Emerging Sources Citation Index 2015- (ESCI) Journal articles, conference proceedings 1900 to present

Additional databases

  • If your question spans multiple disciplines and you would like more information on databases outside of this list, we suggest consulting the subject guides (also known as LibGuides) produced by McGill librarians to get a sense of resources available at McGill.
  • Other high-quality knowledge syntheses published in the area of your research question can also be used for guidance. Cross-reference the methods sections of published syntheses performed in the field of your synthesis topic.
  • Consider consulting topic experts for further guidance.
  • Preliminary/exploratory searches in databases you are considering including can also give you a sense of how useful the database will be.
  • The Cochrane group also has a living list of resources you can consult.

Liaison Librarian

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Genevieve Gore
Liaison Librarian, Schulich Library of Physical Sciences, Life Sciences, and Engineering
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