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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? 

  • Try the Search Smart database: Allows you to compare over 90 databases and their search systems. Note that not all databases are available at McGill. To quickly check most of our database subscriptions, see Databases A-Z.
  • Chapter four of the Cochrane Handbook states that it is mandatory to search CENTRAL, MEDLINE, and Embase (the latter when available to the review team, which is the case at McGill) for all Cochrane reviews ( 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 indexes depending on the institutional subscription. 

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, 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
Global Index Medicus (WHO) Allows you to cross-search regional databases covering low and middle income countries Journal articles Earliest available 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

1788 to present

Cited references: 1970 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

  • Trying the Search Smart database: Allows you to compare over 90 databases and their search systems
  • Consulting the subject guides (also known as LibGuides) produced by McGill librarians to get a sense of resources available at McGill.
  • Referring to other high-quality knowledge syntheses published in the area of your research question. Cross-reference the methods sections of well-conducted syntheses published in the field of your synthesis topic.
  • Consulting topic experts for further guidance
  • Conducting preliminary/exploratory searches in databases you are considering including, to 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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