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EPIB 629 Knowledge Synthesis

Self-directed learning: PowerPoint presentation

Self-directed learning materials

The presentation to guide your self-study on September 17, 2020 is available below. I apologize in advance for the fact that the file is pretty large (14 MB). The presentation includes some embedded video tutorials that will require an internet connection to work.

Has your review already been done?

Once you have a reasonably well defined research question, it is important to make sure your project has not already been recently and successfully undertaken. This means it is important to find out if there are other knowledge syntheses that have been published or that are in the process of being published on your topic.

If you are submitting your systematic review for funding, for example, you may want to make a good case that your review or synthesis is needed and not duplicating work that has already been successfully and recently completed—or that is in the process of being completed. It is also important to note that what is considered “recent” will depend on your discipline and the topic.

Even if you do find another review or synthesis on your topic, it may be sufficiently out of date or you may find other defendable reasons to perform it again. In addition, looking at other knowledge syntheses published around your topic may help you refocus your question or redirect your research toward other gaps in the literature.

 

Where to find other reviews or syntheses

The Cochrane Library (including systematic reviews of interventions, diagnostic studies, prognostic studies, and more) is an excellent place to start, even if Cochrane reviews are also indexed in MEDLINE/PubMed.

By default, the Cochrane Library will display “Cochrane Reviews” (Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, aka CDSR). You can ignore the results which show up in the Trials tab when looking for systematic reviews: They are records of controlled trials. There is also an option to see Other Reviews under "More".

The example shows the number of Cochrane Reviews with hiv AND circumcision in the title, abstract, or keywords.

Subject-specific databases you can search to find existing or in-process reviews

From additional limits, under EBM-Evidence Based Medicine, choose Systematic ReviewTo limit your search strategy to systematic reviews: Go to Additional Limits, and under EBM-Evidence Based Medicine, choose Systematic Review.

Alternatively, you can use a search hedge/filter; for example, the filter used by BMJ Best Practice to find systematic reviews in Embase (can be copied and pasted into the Embase search box then combined with the concepts of your research question):

(exp review/ or (literature adj3 review$).ti,ab. or exp meta analysis/ or exp "Systematic Review"/) and ((medline or medlars or embase or pubmed or cinahl or amed or psychlit or psyclit or psychinfo or psycinfo or scisearch or cochrane).ti,ab. or RETRACTED ARTICLE/) or (systematic$ adj2 (review$ or overview)).ti,ab. or (meta?anal$ or meta anal$ or meta-anal$ or metaanal$ or metanal$).ti,ab.

Alternative interface to PubMed: You can also search MEDLINE on the Ovid platform, which we recommend for systematic searching. Perform a sufficiently developed search strategy (be as broad in your search as is reasonably possible) and then, from Additional Limits, select the publication type Systematic Reviews, or select the subject subset Systematic Reviews Pre 2019 for more sensitive/less precise results. 

The subject subset for Systematic Reviews is based on the filter version used in PubMed.

Perform a sufficiently developed search strategy (be as broad in your search as is reasonably possible) and then, from Additional Limits, select, under Methodology, 0830 Systematic Review

Perform a sufficiently developed search strategy on MEDLINE via PubMed (be as broad in your search as is reasonable) and then use the “Article types” filter for “Systematic Reviews” to see if other reviews have been published on your topic. Systematic reviews found in PubMed and not published by collaborations like Cochrane, Campbell, BEME or JBI, for example, may require more careful critical appraisal for quality.

See Systematic Reviews Search Strategy Applied in PubMed for details.

What is a systematic search?

Systematic searching

Knowledge syntheses involve systematically searching the literature. For example,

Systematic reviews of interventions require a thorough, objective and reproducible search of a range of sources to identify as many relevant studies as possible (within resource limits). This is a major factor in distinguishing systematic reviews from traditional narrative reviews (...)

Lefebvre C, Glanville J, Briscoe S, Littlewood A, Marshall C, Metzendorf M-I, Noel-Storr A, Rader T, Shokraneh F, Thomas J, Wieland LS. Chapter 4: Searching for and selecting studies. In: Higgins JPT, Thomas J, Chandler J, Cumpston M, Li T, Page MJ, Welch VA (editors). Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions version 6.1 (updated September 2020). Cochrane, 2020. Available from https://training.cochrane.org/handbook/current/chapter-04#section-4-2-2

Systematic searching is:

  • Thorough: It involves searching more than one database and using a combination of textwords plus subject headings (the latter when available) to identify relevant literature. It also involves using supplementary search methods in addition to database searching
  • Objective: Search terms include variations in terminology and the searcher should avoid biasing the results of the search through the selection of search terms
  • Reproducible: The searcher is careful to record all the details of the search, including the database and platform with dates of coverage (may differ based on institutional subscriptions), the search strategy as executed, and the date the searches were run

Database selection

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

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

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.

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, and 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.

Developing and running the database searches

Developing and running the database searches

We recommend developing the search strategy in one database before translating the search strategy to the other selected databases: This will make it easier to keep track of things. If you subsequently find terms in the other selected databases, you can then go back and add them to the search(es) that has (have) already been developed as well as integrate them into the remaining searches.

It is recommended that you have your search strategy peer reviewed. For peer review criteria and critical appraisal search strategies, consult:

We also recommend running all the searches on the same day to make it easier to document the date in your manuscript. 

Once you have your searches developed and you are ready to run them, you can the export the records from each database to an EndNote library, which you will keep for your files.

Subject headings - definition

A subject heading is an assigned word or phrase used in some databases to uniformly describe a concept. Searching using this standardized word or phrase, instead of keywords, means you do not need to worry as much about synonyms and spelling variations.

Example: The subject heading for cancer in MEDLINE (via PubMed) is the MeSH term Neoplasms. This means that all articles selected for indexing in MEDLINE that are about cancer at a general level will be tagged or indexed with this subject heading, or if the article is about a specific cancer like breast cancer, with a narrower term (note: there is a time delay between the addition of records to MEDLINE and their indexing with MeSH terms, and some records will not be indexed at all).

How the subject headings are actually used in a database (if they're even available) depends on the platform you're searching, e.g., to use the subject heading for 'Neoplasms' in PubMed or Ovid MEDLINE:

  • PubMed: The search syntax is "Neoplasms"[Mesh] (You can also enter "Neoplasms"[mh] for the same effect; the safest way to use subject headings is to find them first in the MeSH Database, then to add them to the PubMed Search Builder, and then to Search PubMed)
  • Ovid MEDLINE: The search syntax is exp neoplasms/ (The Advanced Search in Ovid MEDLINE at McGill is set up by default to "Map term to subject heading", so if you type in 'cancer', you will get a list of suggested subject headings, with 'Neoplasms' at the top; PubMed does not work that way)

For thorough searches, you would generally include subject headings and their keyword equivalents, plus any synonyms or variants.

Tutorials

These tutorials will help you explore subject headings, subheadings, keywords, and search strategy refinement in more detail.

 

PubMed

Using MeSH in Pubmed  (3 min 02)

 

CINAHL (EBSCOhost)

Using Subject Headings in CINAHL (3 min 32)

Ovid MEDLINE

Ovid MEDLINE part 1 - Starting your search (using subject headings)

Health Sciences Library, McMaster University. (2014, October 16). OVID Medline - Part 1 - Starting Your Search [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qm2tuuxqftg#action=share

OVID Medline - Part 2 - Refining your search (using keywords, operators, and limits)

Health Sciences Library, McMaster University. (2014, October 16). OVID Medline - Part 2 - Refining Your Search [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wtO-KdQRtUg&feature=youtu.be

Keywords - definition

Keyword (or textword, natural language, or free-text) searching is when we, for example, search for words which we expect to find in the title, abstract, or author-assigned keywords of relevant articles; it is how we typically interrogate web search engines like Google. Draw up a list of words or phrases related to each concept in your research question. When using this technique, you will need to be aware of synonyms and spelling variations.

Example: Keywords (or textwords) for cancer can include cancer / cancers / cancerous / malignancies / malignancy / malignant / metastasis / metastases / metastatic / neoplasia / neoplasm / neoplasms / neoplastic / tumor / tumors / tumour / tumours etc.

  • Note that cancer is a very broad concept that refers to many specific types of cancer as well, such as astrocytomas / carcinoma / chordoma / craniopharyngioma / ependymoma / esthesioneuroblastoma /  glioma / leukemia / leukaemia / lymphoma / medulloblastoma / melanoma / mesothelioma / myeloma / myelodysplastic syndromes / osteosarcoma / retinoblastoma / rhabdomyosarcoma / sarcoma / thymoma etc.
  • When searching for articles about cancer, subject headings come in very handy for this reason

Subject headings versus keywords

Subject Headings

Keywords (also called textwords, natural language terms, or free-text terms)

Pre-defined "controlled vocabulary" terms

Natural language terms used by authors in the title, abstract, or author keyword fields (may also be terms used in full text)

Need to know the exact controlled vocabulary term

Need to think of all synonyms, spelling variations, etc.

Less flexible. Not always an appropriate subject heading available

Quick & flexible way to start exploratory searches

Database looks for subjects only in the subject heading or descriptor field

Database looks for terms in selected fields, e.g., title/abstract/author keywords (many databases also allow searching in other fields such as in the affiliation field or publication source field)

Highly relevant results

Generates irrelevant results but can increase the sensitivity of the search (i.e., can pick up records that the subject headings may have missed)

 

Search operators and parentheses

Boolean operators

OR

  • retrieves records that contain at least one of your search terms
  • e.g., (dog OR canine)

AND

  • retrieves records that include all of your search terms
  • e.g., diet therapy AND bulimia

NOT

  • retrieves records that contain your first term but exclude your second term
  • e.g., dementia NOT alzheimer's
  • we do not usually recommend that you use NOT in your searches, as you may exclude relevant results

Note: Capitalize your operators as a matter of practice. In some platforms or search systems, it does not matter whether you enter them in uppercase or lowercase, but others (like PubMed or Google Scholar) require them to be in uppercase to work properly.

Proximity operators

  • Many bibliographic databases also allow use of proximity operators
  • The operator, if available, is dependent on the database and platform being searched
  • e.g., on the Ovid platform, adjn is used: primary adj3 care
  • Please see the database-specific operators and search fields

Parentheses/brackets

Use parentheses to set the order of execution of the Boolean logic. Parentheses work in most but not all systems (e.g., they work on the Ovid, PubMed, EBSCOhost, ProQuest, Scopus, and Web of Science platforms, but they are ignored in Google and Google Scholar)

e.g., (chest OR thorax OR thoracic) AND (imaging OR radiographs OR radiography)

Boolean operators - Tutorial

Boolean operators can be placed between your search terms to narrow or broaden a search, or to exclude search terms.

You will find below a brief video on how to use the Boolean operators:

CINAHL search tips

Tips for searching CINAHL on EBSCOhost

Truncation/ Wildcards
*
At the end of string of characters, retrieves all variations starting with that string; can also be used within words to find multiple characters, or between words to replace a single word
e.g. computer* retrieves computer, computers, computerised, etc.
within a word to replace a single character
e.g. standardi?ed retrieves standardised or standardized
Note: Question marks at the end of a word are NOT treated as wildcards; they are automatically removed
#
within a word or at the end of a word to replace zero or one character
e.g. colo#r retrieves color, colour
Phrases/ Parentheses
“ “
Finds exact expression; by default, CINAHL will search for keywords in the entered order
e.g. “occupational therapy”
 
()
specifies the order of the search
e.g. (urban OR city) AND freshwater
Proximity operators
Nn
Near operator
Retrieves records that contain your terms (in any order) with up to n words between them
e.g. (decision* N3 (aid* OR support*)) retrieves records that contain phrases with up to three words between decision and either aid* or support*, in either direction.
 
Wn
Within operator
Finds the words if they are within n words of one another and in the order in which you entered them.
e.g. primary W3 care finds records with phrases in which primary precedes care with three or fewer words between them.
 
Note: To use proximity operators in CINAHL, uncheck "Suggest Subject Headings" if entering an unqualified search (i.e., the default, if you have not selected specific fields to search) or specify the TI OR AB fields in your search query
e.g., TI (decision* N3 (aid* OR support* OR tool*)) OR AB (decision* N3 (aid* OR support* OR tool*))
Search fields (examples)

Default "Select a field (optional)" (i.e., unqualified searching): Searches Title, abstract, subject headings

  • Note: To execute unqualified searches properly, uncheck "Suggest Subject Headings"

Field codes should be capitalized

TX: All Text (in CINAHL Plus with Full Text, this field will search full text available in the database, not the full text of every report included in CINAHL)

TI: Title

e.g., TI ("primary care" OR "primary health care" OR "primary healthcare") 

AU: Author

AF: Author affiliation

AB: Abstract

e.g., AB ("primary care" OR "primary health care" OR "primary healthcare") 

PT: Publication type

MH: Subject heading

MM: Major subject heading

MJ: Word in major subject heading or subheading (for subheadings, use two-letter code)

MW: Word in subject heading or subheading (for subheadings, use two-letter code)

e.g., To search for records containing the free floating subheadings for diagnosis or ultrasound: (MW "DI" OR "US")

JN: Publication name (exact)

e.g., JN American journal of nursing retrieves the articles published in American journal of nursing

PY: Year of publication

e.g., PY 2000 retrieves articles published in 2000

SO: Words in publication name

e.g., SO art therapy retrieves records published in the International Journal of Art Therapy OR the Journal of the American Art Therapy Association etc.

SU: Subject fields (search terms within subject headings fields, including major subject headings or minor subject headings)

Multiple search fields: Combine with OR

e.g., TI ("primary care" OR "primary health care" OR "primary healthcare") OR AB ("primary care" OR "primary health care" OR "primary healthcare") 

Subject headings

CINAHL Headings

Explode

Represented by the + sign at the end of the subject heading: Expands results to include records with the subject heading you originally selected, PLUS all of the narrower subject headings beneath it

e.g., (MH "Pregnancy in Diabetes+") will search for records indexed with "Pregnancy in Diabetes" OR "Diabetes Mellitus, Gestational" OR "Fetal Macrosomia" 

Major concept

Represented by MM (instead of MH): Retrieves articles in which indexers consider your topic to be of major significance

e.g., (MM "Pregnancy in Diabetes"); can be combined with Explode, e.g., (MM "Pregnancy in Diabetes+")

Cochrane Library search tips

To use these operators and fields, go to advanced search > Select search manager tab

Tips for searching the Cochrane Library

Truncation/ Wildcards
*
Use to replace one or more characters at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of a sequence of letters
e.g. computer* retrieves computer, computers, computerised, etc.
 
Use to match 0 or 1 character within or at the end of a word
e.g., standardi?ed retrieves standardised or standardized
e.g., colo?r retrieves color, colour
e.g., system? retrieves system or systems but does not retrieve systematic or systemic
Phrases/ Parentheses
“ “
Finds exact phrase
e.g., “diabetes mellitus”
Note: phrase searching using quotations does NOT support the use of truncation or wildcards; use NEXT in such cases
 
NEXT
Use next in between terms within a phrase to search for phrases that include truncation or wildcards
e.g., hearing NEXT aid?
 
( )
Called nesting; specifies the order of execution of the Boolean logic in the search string
e.g. (urban OR city) AND freshwater
If nesting is not used, the order of precedence is as follows:
All NOT operations first
All AND operations second
All OR operations last
Proximity operators
NEAR, NEAR/x
Near operator
Retrieves records that contain your terms (in any order) within a specified number (n) of words of each other; the default is 6 words if left unspecified
 
e.g. lung NEAR cancer* retrieves records that contain the words lung and cancer* with a maximum of 6 words in between
e.g., primary NEAR/2 care retrieves records that contain the words primary and care with a maximum of 2 words in between
Search fields (examples)

No field specified: Searches all fields, including full text when available (e.g., full text of Cochrane Reviews)

:ti Title

e.g., screening:ti

:ab Abstract

:kw Keywords (includes MeSH terms but does not allow for term explosion)

:au Author

:pt Publication type (used in CENTRAL only)

e.g., journal:pt

:so Source (title of journal, conference name, report name, etc.)

:an Accession number

e.g., (PubMed):an AND 29891957:an

:crg Cochrane Review Group

e.g., "Airways":crg

Multifield searching: Separate the field tags with commas:

:ti,ab,kw

Subject headings

​MeSH

Use the MeSH Tab to search the thesaurus

MeSH terms are assigned to Cochrane Reviews and Trials from MEDLINE

Note: Not necessary to use MeSH terms if you are already using the same MeSH terms in a MEDLINE search for the same project (e.g., if conducting a systematic review and searching multiple databases) -- they are redundant

Embase on Ovid search tips

Tips for searching Embase (Ovid)

Truncation/
Wildcards
* or $
at the end of string retrieves all suffix variations. 
e.g., computer* retrieves computer, computers, computerised, etc.
$n
at the end of string retrieves suffix variations of n letters
e.g., hospital$1 retrieves hospital or hospitals (but not hospitalized)
#
within a word or at end of word to replace a single character
e.g., wom#n retrieves woman, women
?
within a word or at the end of a word to replace zero or one character
e.g., colo?r retrieves color, colour
Phrase/
Parentheses
" "
Use straight quotes to force the database to search for a phrase, i.e., your search terms in the entered sequence
No quotations generally required for phrase searching on Ovid: Phrases are searched as entered, by default
Exceptions: Use straight quotes around words or phrases containing the following words: and, or, not; limit, map, route, scope, tree
()
specifies the order of execution of the search
e.g., freshwater AND (urban OR city)
 
Proximity and frequency
operators
adjn
retrieves records that contain your terms (in any order) within a specified number (n) of words of each other
n= 1 to 99
e.g., biologist adj5 relationship retrieves records that contain the words biologist and relationship within five words of each other in either order.
 
/freq=n
specifies a term's threshold of occurrence in the records retrieved. Mostly used when you search the full text
e.g., cancer.tw./freq=5 retrieves records in which cancer appears 5 or more times in the .tw. fields (title or abstract)
 
Search fields (examples)

.ab. : Abstract

.au. : Author

.dj.: Candidate terms are "new concepts which are not in Emtree and were proposed during indexing because they were judged to be a useful addition to Emtree";  this field is searched when using .mp.

.in. : Author affiliations. "This information is not standardized and often contains abbreviations. Enter the single most descriptive word in an institution. Consider both full spellings and abbreviations."

e.g., prefer mcgill.in. over mcgill university.in.

.kw. : Words or phrases in author keyword field

.jn. : Exact journal name

e.g., "American journal of human biology: the official journal of the Human Biology Council".jn. retrieves article records from the American journal of human biology: the official journal of the Human Biology Council

.jx.: Word or phrase in journal name

e.g., "american journal of human biology".jn. retrieves article records from the American journal of human biology: the official journal of the Human Biology Council or the American journal of human biology

.mp. : "multi-purpose" (database dependent); in Embase, searches  ti,ab,hw,tn,ot,dm,mf,dv,kw,fx,dq.

.pt. : Publication type

e.g., review.pt.

.sh. : EMTREE (subject headings in Embase); note: this will not include narrower terms of the subject heading in your search, but does include candidate terms (dj), which are not searched when using mapped subject headings

e.g., exp papillomaviridae/ is preferred over papillomaviridae.sh. for comprehensiveness, if you are interested in all forms of papillomaviridae

.ti. : Title

.ti,ab,kw,dj. : Title (ti) or abstract (ab) or author keyword (kw) or candidate terms (dj) in Embase; alternative to .mp. when trying to avoid subject headings that also contain the terms of interest

.tw. : Text word, which is title (ti) or abstract (ab) or drug trade name (tn) in Embase (NOT full text); same as searching .ti,ab,tn. in Embase

.yr. : Year of publication

Subject
headings
exp subject heading/
EMTREE terms exp subject heading/ expands results to include records with the subject heading you originally selected, PLUS all of the narrower subject headings in its family hierarchy
e.g., exp insulin dependent diabetes mellitus/ searches for records indexed with the subject heading insulin dependent diabetes mellitus/ or latent autoimmune diabetes in adults/ (latent autoimmune diabetes in adults/ is a narrower term below insulin dependent diabetes mellitus/ )
*subject heading/
Focusing a subject heading retrieves article records in which indexers consider that subject heading to be of major significance
e.g., *insulin dependent diabetes mellitus/
Note
Explode and focus can be used together or separately
e.g., *insulin dependent diabetes mellitus/ versus exp insulin dependent diabetes mellitus/ versus exp *insulin dependent diabetes mellitus/

ERIC on EBSCOhost search tips

Tips for searching ERIC on EBSCO

Truncation/
Wildcards
*
At the end of string of characters, retrieves all variations starting with that string; can also be used within words to find multiple characters, or between words to replace a single word
e.g. computer* retrieves computer, computers, computerised, etc.
within a word to replace a single character
e.g. standardi?ed retrieves standardised or standardized
Note: Question marks at the end of a word are NOT treated as wildcards; they are automatically removed
#
within a word or at the end of a word to replace zero or one character
e.g. colo#r retrieves color, colour
Note: Wildcards and Truncation can now be combined
Phrase/
Parentheses
" "
Use quotations to force the database to search for a phrase, i.e., your search terms in the entered sequence
By default, ERIC will search for keywords in the entered order, but quotations are recommended
 
()
specifies the order of execution of the search
e.g., freshwater AND (urban OR city)
 
Proximity operators
Nn
Near operator
Retrieves records that contain your terms (in any order) within a specified number (n) of words of each other
e.g. health N5 education retrieves records that contain the words health and education within five words of each other in either direction.
 
Wn
Within operator
Finds the words if they are within (n) words of one another and in the order in which you entered them.
e.g. health W5 education finds records in which health precedes education by five or fewer words.
Search fields (examples)

Default "Select a field (optional)": Title, Author, Subjects (Descriptors/Identifiers), Institution Name, Core Subjects, and the Abstract Summary

TX: All Text, searches all of ERIC's searchable fields

TI: Title

AU: Author

AB: Abstract

DE: Subject headings/descriptors (phrase indexed) searches exact subject heading descriptors
e.g., DE individual needs

EM: Entry date in the format CCYY

KW: Keywords or identifiers, performs a keyword search for terms describing the article
e.g., KW Abacuses

JN: Journal name, searches exact journal name
e.g., JN Science Teacher retrieves records of articles published in Science Teacher

LA: Language
e.g., LA English

PY: Year of Publication
e.g., PY 2000 retrieves the articles published in 2000

SU: Subject headings/descriptors (word indexed), searches subject headings that briefly describe the item's content
e.g., SU vocational education

Subject
headings
ERIC Thesaurus; use Thesaurus link in top left-hand corner to find descriptors and to include narrower terms (via Explode)

MEDLINE on Ovid search tips

Tips for searching Ovid MEDLINE

Truncation/
Wildcards
* or $
at the end of string retrieves all suffix variations
e.g., computer* retrieves computer, computers, computerised, etc.
$n
at the end of string retrieves suffix variations of n letters
e.g., hospital$1 retrieves hospital or hospitals (but not hospitalized)
#
within a word or at end of word to replace a single character
e.g., wom#n retrieves woman, women
?
within a word or at the end of a word to replace zero or one character
e.g., colo?r retrieves color, colour
Phrase/
Parentheses
" "
Use straight quotes to force the database to search for a phrase, i.e., your search terms in the entered sequence
No quotations generally required for phrase searching on Ovid: Phrases are searched as entered, by default
Exceptions: Use straight quotes around words or phrases containing the following words: and, or, not; limit, map, route, scope, tree
()
specifies the order of execution of the search
e.g., freshwater AND (urban OR city)
 
Proximity and frequency
operators
adjn
retrieves records that contain your terms (in any order) within a specified number (n) of words of each other
n= 1 to 99
e.g., biologist adj5 relationship retrieves records that contain the words biologist and relationship within five words of each other in either order.
 
/freq=n
specifies a term's threshold of occurrence in the records retrieved. Mostly used when you search the full text
e.g., cancer.tw./freq=5 retrieves records in which cancer appears 5 or more times in the .tw. fields (title or abstract)
 
Search fields (examples)

.ab. : Abstract

.au. : Author

.cl. : Collection

.in. : Institution

.kf. : Words or phrases in author keyword field

.jn. : Journal name

e.g., American journal of human biology.jn. retrieves article records from the American Journal of Human Biology

.mp. : "multi-purpose" (database dependent); in MEDLINE, searches ti,ab,ot,nm,hw,fx,kf,ox,px,rx,ui,sy.

.pt. : Publication type

.sh. : MeSH (subject headings in MEDLINE); note: it is preferred to use subject heading mapping to take advantage of exploding a subject heading to include narrower terms

.so. : Source

.ti. : Title

.ti,ab,kf. : Title or abstract or author keyword IN MEDLINE

.tw. : Text word, which is usually title or abstract (NOT full text)

.yr. : Year of publication

Subject
headings
exp subject heading/
MeSH terms Explode SH expands results to include records with the SH you originally selected, PLUS all of the narrower subject headings in its family hierarchy
e.g., exp diabetes mellitus, type 1/ searches for records indexed with the subject heading diabetes mellitus, type 1/ or wolfram syndrome/ (wolfram syndrome/ is a narrower term below diabetes mellitus, type 1/)
*subject heading/
Focusing a subject heading retrieves article records in which indexers consider that subject heading to be of major significance
e.g., *diabetes mellitus, type 1/
Note
Explode and focus can be used together or separately
e.g., *diabetes mellitus, type 1/ versus exp diabetes mellitus, type 1/ versus exp *diabetes mellitus,type 1/

ProQuest (platform) search tips

Suggested database on ProQuest:

Tips for searching ProQuest databases

Truncation/ Wildcards

*

At the end or in the middle of a string retrieves variations of a search term (replaces up to 5 characters)

[*n] is used to denote how many characters you want to truncate

e.g., computer* retrieves  computer, computers, computerised, etc.; colo*r retrieves color, colour, colocator

e.g., econom[*2] retrieves economy or economic, but not economies

?

Used to replace any single character either inside or at the right end of a word

 e.g. nurse?

retrieves nurse, nurses, nursed

Lemmatization Used by default; to turn off automatic searching for spelling variants and lemmatiziation, use " "
Phrase/ Parentheses
“ “
Finds words occurring in exact order as entered
e.g. “occupational therapy” 
 
()
Specifies the order of execution of the Boolean logic in the search
e.g., freshwater AND (urban OR city) retrieves records that contain the word freshwater AND the word urban or records that contain the word freshwater AND the word city
 
Proximity operators

NEAR/n

Retrieves records that  contain your terms (in any order) within a  specified number (n) of words of each other. Defaults to a maximum of four words between your terms.

 e.g. biologist NEAR/5  relationship retrieves records that  contain the words biologist and relationship within five words of each other in either direction.

 

Search fields (examples) 

Some search fields are database dependent

To search anywhere in the record, do not specify a search field.

e.g., (tornado* OR hurricane* OR "natural disaster*")

NOFT: Anywhere except full text

e.g., NOFT("physical therapy")

 

ADV: Advisor - available in ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Global

AU: Author

AB: Abstract

FT: Searches for terms in body of the article (note: full text is not necessarily available in ProQuest databases)

LA: Language

e.g., LA(french)

PU: Publication title

e.g., PUB(wall street journal)

SCH: School name/code - available in ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Global

SU: Subjects (all)

TI: Document title

Search across multiple fields by separating field codes with a comma

e.g., TI,AB,SU("physical therapy")

 

Subject
headings

Database dependent

 

More information on searching in ProQuest

PubMed search tips

Tips for searching PubMed

We recommend switching from Best Match to Most Recent sort order when developing a comprehensive search strategy. Best Match is now the default.

Truncation/ Wildcards
​*
At the end of a term/phrase, retrieves variations
e.g., computer* retrieves computer, computers, computerised, etc (but not compute).
 
At least four characters must precede the asterisk for the latter to be used in the query
e.g., if you search for rct*, the asterisk will be ignored 
 
Truncating a term turns off automatic term mapping
 
Wildcards within words or within phrases are not supported.
Lemmatization When automatic term mapping is on, lemmatization is applied using tools including the Specialist Lexicon from UMLS
Phrases/ Parentheses
" "
Finds exact expression
e.g., “primary care”
 
You can also find an exact expression by specifying a search tag after the phrase
e.g., primary care[tw]
 
Or by using hyphens between the terms
e.g., primary-care
 
Truncated phrases without quotations, search tags, or hyphens:
 
In the older version of PubMed, searching occupational therap* (without search tags or quotations) would search for the variants of the phrase (e.g., occupational therapy / occupational therapies / occupational therapist / occupational therapists, but not "physical, occupational, and speech therapy", etc.); in the new version of PubMed, occupational therap* will map occupational to relevant MeSH terms and textword variants (or maybe not) then combine that search with AND with therap* variants in all fields: (((((("occupant"[All Fields] OR "occupant s"[All Fields]) OR "occupants"[All Fields]) OR "occupational"[All Fields]) OR "occupations"[MeSH Terms]) OR "occupations"[All Fields]) OR "occupation"[All Fields]) AND "therap*"[All Fields]
 
Note: Phrases may appear in a PubMed record but not be in the phrase index.
 
( )
Specifies the order of execution of the Boolean logic in the search
e.g., freshwater AND (urban OR city)
Proximity  Not available; use AND instead
Search fields (examples)

Search field codes can be in upper- or lower-case (Boolean operators must be in upper-case)

[mh] or [Mesh] or [MeSH Terms]: MeSH term. Includes narrower terms by default in PubMed

e.g., "ultrasonography"[mesh]

[majr] or [MeSH Major Topic]: MeSH Major Topic (indicated in the list of MeSH terms assigned to a record with an * at the end of the term)

e.g., "ultrasonography"[majr]

[mesh:noexp]: MeSH term excluding narrower terms

[majr:noexp]: MeSH major topic excluding narrower terms

[subheading] or [sh]: Subheading, including narrower subheadings

Can be attached to a MeSH term (availability depends on the MeSH term) or, as listed here, searched as a "floating subheading"

e.g., "diagnosis"[subheading] (versus, e.g., "tuberculosis/diagnosis"[mesh])

[tiab] or [Title/Abstract]: Title or abstract or author keywords

[tw] or [Text Word]: Title or abstract or author keywords or entry terms (Note: PubMed does not search full text)

[ti] or [Title]: Title

[ot] or [Other Term]: Author keywords

[all] or [All Fields]: All fields available in the record, including author name words, journal words, affiliation

[au] or [Author]: Author field

e.g., Pai M[au] retrieves records listing authors with the first initial M plus other initials following it, and last name Pai

[pdat]:  Publication year

[pt]: Publication type

e.g., "randomized controlled trial"[pt]

Subject headings

MeSH terms

Use parentheses around MeSH terms to enforce their exact use

e.g., nursing[mesh] will search for "nursing"[mesh] OR "breast feeding"[mesh], while "nursing"[mesh] will only search for "nursing"[mesh]

To explode/include narrower MeSH terms: " "[mesh]
PubMed automatically searches for records indexed with the the MeSH heading you are using as well as the more specific (narrower) terms beneath that heading in the MeSH hierarchy
e.g., "Health Services Accessibility"[mesh] will search for records indexed with "Health Services Accessibility"[mesh] OR "Health Equity"[mesh] OR "Right to Health"[mesh] OR "Universal Health Care"[mesh]
 
To turn off the Explode function: " "[mesh:noexp]
In the MeSH Database entry for the term of interest, check off Do not include MeSH terms found below this term in the MeSH hierarchy if you do not want to include narrower subject headings, or enter [mesh:noexp] after the MeSH term of interest
e.g., "Delivery of Health Care"[mesh:noexp]
 
Major topic: [majr]
Retrieves records for articles in which indexers consider your topic to be a main theme
To use this feature, in the MeSH Database entry for the term of interest, check off Restrict to MeSH Major Topic, or enter [majr] after the MeSH term of interest
e.g., "Delivery of Health Care"[majr] ([majr] can be combined with no exploding as well: "Delivery of Health Care"[majr:noexp])

Scopus search tips

Tips for searching Scopus

Truncation/ Wildcards

Wildcards can be used anywhere in the word, even at the beginning

*

Represents any number of characters, even 0

e.g., computer* retrieves computer OR computers OR computerised OR computerized etc.

Represents any single character

e.g., wom?n retrieves woman OR women

Lemmatization Used by default; searching using lemmatization and equivalents can be turned off with curly brackets { }
Phrase/ Parentheses
“ “
Finds words occurring in exact order as entered; can be combined with truncation and wildcards
e.g. “occupational therapy”
 
 
{}
finds exact expression; do not combine with truncation; a hyphenated term can produce different results from a non-hyphenated term
 
()
Specifies the order of execution of the Boolean logic in the search
e.g., freshwater AND (urban OR city) 
 
Proximity operators

PRE/n

Preceded by n

Retrieves articles that contains your words, in your given order, within a specified number (n) of words of each other

 e.g.  primary PRE/1 *care finds articles in which primary precedes care (or, as also relevant, healthcare) by one or fewer words

 W/n

 Within n

 Replaces the n with a  number to specify the maximum number of words that separate the  terms.

 e.g.,  parent* W/5  relationship* finds articles in which parent and relationship  are no more than 5 words apart

Search fields (examples) 

NO FIELD specified: () = A search of the entire record, including the list of references

AFFIL() = Affiliation fields, including AFFILCITY OR AFFILCOUNTRY OR AFFILORG

ALL() = Searches full record (ABS, AFFIL, ARTNUM, AUTH, AUTHCOLLAB, CHEM, CODEN, CONF, DOI, EDITOR, ISBN, ISSN, ISSUE, KEY, LANGUAGE, MANUFACTURER, PUBLISHER, PUBYEAR, REF, SEQBANK, SEQNUMBER, SRCTITLE, VOLUME, and TITLE)

AUTH () = Author fields, including AUTHLASTNAME OR AUTHFIRST

PUBYEAR = Publication Year

e.g., PUBYEAR > 2009 searches references published in 2010 or later; PUBYEAR < 2011 searches references published in 2010 or earlier; PUBYEAR = 2010 searches references published in 2010

TITLE () = Title

e.g., TITLE(Therapy) retrieves records in which therapy (or synonyms, based on system's synonym finder, aka lemmatization dictionary) is in the title

TITLE-ABS-KEY() = Title OR Abstract OR Keywords - searches Title OR Abstract OR Keywords, which includes Author Keywords (AUTHKEY) OR Indexing Terms (INDEXTERMS) OR Trade Names (TRADENAME) OR Chemical Names (CHEMNAME)

Subject
headings

Contained in the INDEXTERMS fields

Includes index terms (subject headings) from the following thesauri:

  • Ei Thesaurus (engineering, technology, physical sciences)
  • Emtree medical terms (life sciences, health sciences)
  • MeSH (life sciences, health sciences)
  • GEOBASE Subject Index (geology, geography, earth and environmental sciences)
  • FLX terms
  • WTA terms (fluid sciences, textile sciences)
  • Regional Index (geology, geography, earth and environmental sciences)
  • Species Index (biology, life sciences

Web of Science Core Collection search tips

Tips for searching Web of Science Core Collection

Truncation/ Wildcards
You must enter at least three characters after a wildcard when using left-hand truncation and three characters before a wildcard when using right-hand truncation
 
*
before, within or after word or string to replace multiple characters
e.g., computer* retrieves computer, computers, computerised, etc.
 
?
before, within or after word or string to replace any single character
e.g. wom?n
retrieves woman, women
 
$
before, within or after word or string to replace zero or one character
e.g., colo$r
retrieves color, colour
Lemmatization

Used by default in topic (TS) and title (TI) field searches; lemmatization and stemming are not used in combination with quotations or when search terms contain wildcards

To turn off lemmatization in new Web of Science: Go to Advanced Search > More options > Select Exact search

Phrase/ Parenthesis
“ “
Finds words occurring in exact order as entered; can be combined with truncation and wildcards
e.g. “occupational therapy”
Note: Turns off lemmatization and synonym finder (what is lemmatization?)
 
()
Specifies the order of execution of the Boolean logic in the search
e.g., freshwater AND (urban OR city)
Proximity operators
NEAR/n
Replaces the n with a number to specify the maximum number of words that separate the terms.
e.g., biologist NEAR/5 relationship
Finds articles in which biologist and relationship are no more than 5 terms apart
 
Note: You cannot use NEAR/n in between two sets of terms in which one set contains AND, even if implied: Be sure to enclose phrases in quotations as a result (because spaces between phrase words are otherwise treated as AND)
e.g., TS=((health care OR healthcare) NEAR/3 (setting* OR system*)) will not work because health care is interpreted as health AND care, but TS=(("health care" OR healthcare) NEAR/3 (setting* OR system*)) will
 
SAME
In address searches, use SAME to restrict your search to terms that appear in the same address within a full record
e.g., AD= ("Family Medicine" SAME McGill)
Retrieves records in which "Family Medicine" appears in the same address field as McGill
Search fields (examples)

TI= Title

e.g., TI=(Therapy) retrieves records in which therapy (or related terms based on lemmatization and spelling variants) is in the title

TS = Topic - searches Title, Abstract, Author Keywords, and Keywords Plus (more information)

AB = Abstract (lemmatization does not work when specifically searching this field)

AK = Author keywords (lemmatization does not work when specifically searching this field)

KP = Keywords Plus (lemmatization does not work when specifically searching this field) (more information)

AD = Address (more information)

AU = Author (more information)

PY = Year Published

Subject
headings

Not available

Search filters or hedges

Search filters, sometimes also called hedges or search blocks, are search strategies that usually include a series of pre-elaborated free-text terms/textwords/words/phrases plus subject headings for a given concept, idea, or study design; these search strategies have already been developed to find literature on the concept/idea/study design of interest within a particular database/platform (e.g., for the MEDLINE database on the Ovid platform). They may or may not have been validated for their sensitivity/specificity/precision, but when available, they are a useful tool to take advantage of work that others have already done to identify terms to find literature on a given concept.

If reusing search filters that others have developed, please cite or acknowledge them.

Useful sources of general search filters

Additional/more specific filters not listed above or suggested at McGill

In addition to using search filters or hedges, you may find it useful to consult other systematic reviews or knowledge syntheses related to at least one of the concepts of your search, to see how they developed the search strategy for the concept of interest. One trick, for example, is to search the Cochrane Library by restricting the term of interest to the title field in the record, and then looking at the search strategy in the full-text, as it is often well documented in Cochrane reviews. Ideally, you should check a few reviews given the quality of the searches can be quite heterogeneous.

RCT search filters for MEDLINE on Ovid, EMBASE on Ovid, and PubMed

RCT search filters/hedges

Use these pre-formulated search strategies (database-specific) to limit your results to randomized controlled trials or controlled clinical trials, depending on the strategy available. To do so, just copy and paste the appropriate strategy into the database search box and add it to your search with the Boolean operator AND.

 

CINAHL (EBSCOhost) filter/hedge for controlled clinical trials:

 

Cochrane Highly Sensitive Search Strategy for identifying controlled trials in Embase

(Randomized controlled trial/ or Controlled clinical study/ or random$.ti,ab. or randomization/ or intermethod comparison/ or placebo.ti,ab. or (compare or compared or comparison).ti. or ((evaluated or evaluate or evaluating or assessed or assess) and (compare or compared or comparing or comparison)).ab. or (open adj label).ti,ab. or ((double or single or doubly or singly) adj (blind or blinded or blindly)).ti,ab. or double blind procedure/ or parallel group$1.ti,ab. or (crossover or cross over).ti,ab. or ((assign$ or match or matched or allocation) adj5 (alternate or group$1 or intervention$1 or patient$1 or subject$1 or participant$1)).ti,ab. or (assigned or allocated).ti,ab. or (controlled adj7 (study or design or trial)).ti,ab. or (volunteer or volunteers).ti,ab. or human experiment/ or trial.ti.) not (((random$ adj sampl$ adj7 ("cross section$" or questionnaire$1 or survey$ or database$1)).ti,ab. not (comparative study/ or controlled study/ or randomi?ed controlled.ti,ab. or randomly assigned.ti,ab.)) or (Cross-sectional study/ not (randomized controlled trial/ or controlled clinical study/ or controlled study/ or randomi?ed controlled.ti,ab. or control group$1.ti,ab.)) or (((case adj control$) and random$) not randomi?ed controlled).ti,ab. or (Systematic review not (trial or study)).ti. or (nonrandom$ not random$).ti,ab. or "Random field$".ti,ab. or (random cluster adj3 sampl$).ti,ab. or ((review.ab. and review.pt.) not trial.ti.) or ("we searched".ab. and (review.ti. or review.pt.)) or "update review".ab. or (databases adj4 searched).ab. or ((rat or rats or mouse or mice or swine or porcine or murine or sheep or lambs or pigs or piglets or rabbit or rabbits or cat or cats or dog or dogs or cattle or bovine or monkey or monkeys or trout or marmoset$1).ti. and animal experiment/) or (Animal experiment/ not (human experiment/ or human/)))

Source: Box 3.e. Technical Supplement to Chapter 4: Searching for and Selecting StudiesCochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions Version 6. 

 

MEDLINE (Ovid) highly sensitive filter/hedge for RCTs, modified with addition of randomised.ab.

((randomized controlled trial or controlled clinical trial).pt. or randomized.ab. or randomised.ab. or placebo.ab. or drug therapy.fs. or randomly.ab. or trial.ab. or groups.ab.) not (exp animals/ not humans.sh.)

Source: Box 3.c., Technical Supplement to Chapter 4: Searching for and Selecting StudiesCochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions Version 6. 

 

PubMed highly sensitive filter/hedge for RCTs, modified with addition of randomised[tiab]:

((randomized controlled trial[pt]) OR (controlled clinical trial[pt]) OR (randomized[tiab] OR randomised[tiab]) OR (placebo[tiab]) OR (drug therapy[sh]) OR (randomly[tiab]) OR (trial[tiab]) OR (groups[tiab])) NOT (animals[mh] NOT humans[mh])

Source: Box 3.b., Technical Supplement to Chapter 4: Searching for and Selecting StudiesCochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions Version 6. 

Download EndNote!

McGill students and staff may download EndNote free of charge onto their personal computers at home or at the university.

EndNote 20 for Mac is compatible with Big Sur and Catalina.

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Older versions: 

If you have a Mac, please see this notification FIRST. If you prefer the older version and have Big Sur, please use the EndNote OS Catalina download.

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EndNote is installed on all library computers as well as other locations on campus.

Citation Management FAQ

FAQ FOR CITATION MANAGEMENT QUESTIONS

This FAQ is set up to accept natural language questions and to get you to the answer to your question as quickly as possible. For now, the FAQ is limited to questions related to EndNote, but this will be expanded in the future.

You can type your question below, or access the full FAQ at http://mcgill.libanswers.com/citation.  We welcome your feedback!

EndNote: The short course (video)

How to use EndNote 20 in seven minutes: Windows

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How to use EndNote 20 in seven minutes: MacOS

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Exporting search results to EndNote

Note: This procedure helps you keep track of the information that will be needed to report the methods in the article and also to fill in the PRISMA flow diagram.

Have the right EndNote library open in the background before you begin exporting.

Note: We do not generally recommend using Safari as your browser during this process, although it can be used with some tweaking.

For more instructions on using EndNote or other software programs, please see the Citation Guide

The steps below cover Ovid MEDLINE, Embase Classic+Embase on Ovid, PubMed, Web of Science databases, and CINAHL on EBSCO.

Exporting from Ovid Online

(MEDLINE, Embase, APA PsycInfo, Global Health)

We often start by exporting records from Ovid MEDLINE, if applicable (you may have decided to only use PubMed to search MEDLINE; those instructions are below):

  1. In EndNote, create a new library, with a useful name like SearchConcepts-MEDLINE-yyyymmdd-xRecords.enl, for the records from the database in question (e.g., MEDLINE on Ovid) and have the library ready in the background
  2. From Ovid, export complete reference in groups of <= 6,000 at McGill (e.g., 1-2000, 2001-3000; be careful if exporting in batches of 6,000 as Ovid may time out), do this until all of your records are exported (Export > Export To: EndNote; Select Fields to Display: Complete Reference; Export Citations)

  1. Move batches of exported records to the library you created and check the final number of records in the library against the number of results listed in database
  2. Document the search: From Ovid MEDLINE, use the command ..ps and copy/paste the search into another document, or download the search history for your records using Export (select one record for this) > choose Microsoft Word format, check off Search History, and save the Word document to your documentation folder, with a useful filename in a format like SearchConcepts-yyyymmdd-Search-MEDLINE-xRecords, SearchConcepts-yyyymmdd-Search-Embase-xRecords, etc. You can delete the record from the Word document as that was only needed to permit exporting the search history.
    • The search history can then be copied and pasted into an appendix of the article, to document the search strategy with exactness. Avoids transcription errors
  3. Save the search history to your personal Ovid account (free) and identify the search by database name and date; this greatly facilitates rerunning the search later if an update is needed. Document your Ovid account information as well.
  4. Create a compressed version of the EndNote library for your records

Exporting from PubMed

  1. In EndNote, create a new library, with a useful name like SearchConcepts-PubMed-yyyymmdd-xRecords.enl, for the records from the database in question (PubMed) and have the library open in the background
  2. From PubMed, Click on Send To > Citation manager > Selection: All results > Create file

Click "Send to" button and select "citation manager" from options

Change the "Selection" to "all results"

Depending on the browser you are using and/or your computer setup, this will: (1) export the records directly to EndNote, or (2) prompt you to choose to use EndNote to open the file, or (3) save it as a .txt file which you would then need to import into your library.

Choose to use EndNote to open the file:

In Firefox, select "Open with" and make sure EndNote is the application selected

Import the .txt. file:

If the file was saved to your computer instead of automatically being imported into EndNote, import the file into EndNote (In EndNote menu: File > Import > File and locate the saved PubMed file on your computer) > Select PubMed (NLM) filter (if not visible, click “Other Filters…” to find it)

To import a file into EndNote, choose the file saved on your device, e.g., pubmed_result.txt, use the Import Option PubMed (NLM), and click Import

 

  1. Document the search: Save the search history for your records by clicking Create alert under the search box once you are viewing the results or from the Advanced screen, click Download (upper right corner of History and Search Details) to maintain the line-by-line version (if applicable). The search in Create alert is saved in an agglomerated format but this is useful if you need to rerun the search later for an update and is also valid when including the search strategy in your manuscript
  2. Create a compressed version of the EndNote library for your records

Exporting from Web of Science

  1. In EndNote, create a new library, with a useful name like SearchConcepts-WoS-yyyymmdd-xRecords.enl, for the records from the database in question (Web of Science) and have the library ready in the background
  2. In Web of Science, Click on the arrow for the Save to EndNote online dropdown menu and select Save to EndNote desktop
  3. Export full records in groups of up to 500 (e.g., 1-500, 501-612)
  4. Move batches of exported records to the library you created and check the final number of records in the library against the number of results listed in database
  5. Document the search Copy and paste the search history into a Word document, adjust the formatting
  6. You can save the search history as a file on your computer and this file can later be uploaded to Web of Science to re-execute the search; this is useful later if an update is needed
  7. Document which parts of Web of Science you are searching (Web of Science is composed of multiple databases and access to them is insititution-dependent)
  8. Create a compressed version of the EndNote library for your records

Creating a backup, compressed EndNote library for your records

  • Before merging the libraries, create compressed libraries of each of the EndNote libraries from the individual database searches: Keep these compressed libraries for your records (you can also back these up as, e.g., RIS files, to save space)
  • Using the uncompressed versions of those libraries, bring all the records from your separate searches in to one EndNote library if you haven’t done so already: From EndNote menu, File > Import > File > locate individual .enl files; Import: EndNote library. You will perform deduplication in this library.

Creating a new EndNote library for deduplication and backup after deduplicating

See the instructions on deduplicating in EndNote.

Create a compressed library for backup after having removed all duplicates, with a filename like SearchTerms-yyyymmdd-Deduplicated—xRecords.enlx. This will be the library for screening.

Deduplicating in EndNote

Removing duplicates

Systematic review software may offer this functionality, or you can use one of the following methods to remove duplicates from a merged EndNote library.

Before deduplicating, you will need a merged EndNote library containing the records from all your separate EndNote libraries for the individual database searches, if you had previously exported records from each database into separate libraries:

  • Create a new EndNote library that will contain the records from all the databases you searched (I like to put DEDUPING in the EndNote library name)
  • Import the records from each EndNote library you created for the individual database searches:
    • Go to EndNote menu > File > Import > File
    • Next to "Import File", browse to choose the .enl file (NOT the .enlx file) for each library of downloaded records from your searches and select "EndNote Library" as the "Import Option"
    • Once all the records have been added to this new library, check to make sure the final number of records, before removing duplicates, matches the sum of the records found for all the database searches

Using this merged library of records from your individual database searches, you are now ready to remove duplicates. Here are two methods you can use:

1) Earlier version of "Bramer method" for deduplicating, with steps provided in Word document format:

2) Paper describing more advanced configuration options for removing duplicates in EndNote: Bramer WM, Giustini D, de Jonge GB, Holland L, Bekhuis T. De-duplication of database search results for systematic reviews in EndNote. Journal of the Medical Library Association : JMLA. 2016;104(3):240-243. doi:10.3163/1536-5050.104.3.014

After deduplication

Create a compressed library for backup after having removed as many duplicates as possible, with a filename like SearchTerms-yyyymmdd-Deduplicated—xRecords.enlx. This will be the library for screening. You can export the deduplicated library to Rayyan, for example, or other synthesis software, to facilitate the screening process, which usually involves more than one reviewer.

Deduplicating with SRA DeDuplicator

Removing duplicate records with the IEBH SR-Accelerator DeDuplicator 

< 2000 records:

Create a free account with IEBH SR-Accelerator, log in and import your library (ideally with < 2000 if performing this online), and use the Deduplicate tool.

≥ 2000 records:

The offline DeDuplicator is useful for large sets of records (≥ 2000). Download the SRA-dedupe-UI application from GitHub. As of October 2020, there were only Linux and Windows versions available.

  • Help using DeDuplicator Offline
  • When exporting your records to an XML file, don't forget to select them all (Help Importing/Exporting EndNote records)
  • If you choose to use the stand alone executable version for Windows, you may get a message that "Windows protected your PC": Click on More info and then a Run anyway button will appear, which you should click if you feel comfortable trusting the software developers

Keep a copy of the RIS or XML file for your records.

See also: Rathbone, J., Carter, M., Hoffmann, T., & Glasziou, P. (2015). Better Duplicate Detection for Systematic Reviewers: Evaluation of Systematic Review Assistant-Deduplication Module. Systematic Reviews, 4(1), 6. doi:10.1186/2046-4053-4-6

Documenting and reporting the search methods

The PRISMA-S Group has developed an extension to PRISMA to assist researchers in documenting their literature searches for systematic reviews and other knowledge syntheses. The checklist identifies what to document in terms of information sources and methods, search strategies, peer review, and records management.

This checklist (table 1) as well as explanations and elaborations are provided in the following article:

Rethlefsen ML, Kirtley S, Waffenschmidt S, Ayala AP, Moher D, Page MJ, et al. PRISMA-S: An extension to the PRISMA Statement for reporting literature searches in systematic reviews. Syst Rev. 2021;10(1):39. https://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s13643-020-01542-z

Table 1: PRISMA-S checklist

SECTION/TOPIC # CHECKLIST ITEM
INFORMATION SOURCES AND METHODS
Database name 1 Name each individual database searched, stating the platform for each.
Multi-database searching 2 If databases were searched simultaneously on a single platform, state the name of the platform, listing all of the databases searched.
Study registries 3 List any study registries searched.
Online resources and browsing 4 Describe any online or print source purposefully searched or browsed (e.g., tables of contents, print conference proceedings, web sites), and how this was done.
Citation searching 5 Indicate whether cited references or citing references were examined, and describe any methods used for locating cited/citing references (e.g., browsing reference lists, using a citation index, setting up email alerts for references citing included studies).
Contacts 6 Indicate whether additional studies or data were sought by contacting authors, experts, manufacturers, or others.
Other methods 7 Describe any additional information sources or search methods used.
SEARCH STRATEGIES
Full search strategies 8 Include the search strategies for each database and information source, copied and pasted exactly as run.
Limits and restrictions 9 Specify that no limits were used, or describe any limits or restrictions applied to a search (e.g., date or time period, language, study design) and provide justification for their use.
Search filters 10 Indicate whether published search filters were used (as originally designed or modified), and if so, cite the filter(s) used.
Prior work 11 Indicate when search strategies from other literature reviews were adapted or reused for a substantive part or all of the search, citing the previous review(s).
Updates 12 Report the methods used to update the search(es) (e.g., rerunning searches, email alerts).
Dates of searches 13 For each search strategy, provide the date when the last search occurred.
PEER REVIEW
Peer review 14 Describe any search peer review process.
MANAGING RECORDS
Total records 15 Document the total number of records identified from each database and other information sources.
Deduplication 16 Describe the processes and any software used to deduplicate records from multiple database searches and other information sources.

Table 1 is reproduced here per a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Changes made: The column header "Item #" was changed to "#" for better display.

The PRISMA Flow Diagram

The PRISMA flow diagram is used to illustrate the flow of records through the search and screening process. 

Important information to document for the search

Record the information for each database and document the number of records before and after removing duplicates.

Search documentation
Platform Database Database coverage dates # Rec. Search date Notes
OvidSP Ovid MEDLINE ALL (R) 1946-Present 1,023 2018/01/12 No limits or filters used
OvidSP Embase Classic + Embase 1947-Present 2,046 2018/01/12 No limits or filters used

Total # of records before removing duplicates: 1023 + 2046 = 3069

Total # of records after removing duplicates: 2056

Original searches (Copy and paste exactly as executed):

Ovid MEDLINE ALL (R)

1. Silicone gels/
2. Silicone elastomers/
3. Silicon*.ti,ab,kf
4. (gels or gel).ti,ab,kf.
5. Cica care.ti,ab,kf
6. Or/1–5
7. Cicatrix, hypertrophic/
8. (hypertrophic adj3 scar*).ti,ab,kf
9. Hypertrophic cicatrices.ti,ab,kf
10. Hypertrophic cicatrix.ti,ab,kf
11. Or/7–10
12. 6 and 11
 
Per PRISMA-S, you would also include the number of records generated per search line as well as the Embase search strategy.
Be sure to also include information on the supplementary search methods used and how you identified the records or documents (this includes the searches you used in search engines, for example, or how you browsed a site)

Finding full text

Finding full text

Here are the steps I usually take when tracking down full-text articles. 

First, I like to perform these steps with VPN running in the background if off campus, for Google or Google Scholar in particular (VPN may not be a viable option behind hospital firewalls though).

Given I use EndNote to collect my references (may also be an option in other citation management software):

  • I have usually exported my records to EndNote, so I use the Find Full Text feature in EndNote to automatically download as many full-text articles to my EndNote library as I can (usually in batches no greater than 20, but that's just a suggestion); they get added to the .Data folder but I don't usually access that folder as the article can be viewed and annotated directly from the EndNote reference
  • Instructions on setting up Find Full Text in EndNote (you'll need to do this if you're off campus)

If that doesn't work or you don't use EndNote:

  • I do a quick Google Scholar search http://scholar.google.ca for the article title and see if I can quickly get to full-text that way (I set up Google Scholar with “Find full text” links, and/or I use Google Scholar with VPN running in the background); 
  • If that doesn’t work, I copy and paste the journal title (rather than the article title, although the article title can work too) into the Sofia Discovery Tool available at http://www.mcgill.ca/library
    • I often use quotations around the journal title for more precise results
    • I recommend using the full journal title over the abbreviated format
    • I often limit the results by format in the left-hand column to Journal/Magazine
    • When I find the right journal record, I click on “Access journal" and select a link that covers the date I am looking for
      • For e-access, I might have to click on a few links before getting to the right place: Pay particular attention to the information about the time coverage available for each electronic source to avoid unnecessary clicking
      • If it’s not available online, I check our print holdings in all relevant records for the journal; if it is only available in print at McGill, I click on “Place hold or request article/chapter scan” (be sure to fill in the citation information for the article or chapter in the item description field), or, if the article is in a journal that's on open shelves, I can go make a copy of it in person (note that this option is not available during the pandemic)
  • If it’s seemingly not available at McGill:

Liaison Librarian

Genevieve Gore's picture
Genevieve Gore
Liaison Librarian, Schulich Library of Physical Sciences, Life Sciences, and Engineering
On sabbatical from Jan 1 to Jun 30, 2021
Contact: Website

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