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Systematic Reviews, Scoping Reviews, and other Knowledge Syntheses

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.

Table 1: PRISMA-S checklist

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.
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 14 Describe any search peer review process.
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):


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).

Addressing offensive terms in search strategies

Addressing outdated language

Creating comprehensive searches on certain topics might require you to search antiquated, non-standard, exclusionary, and potentially offensive terms in order to capture older literature. Colleagues at the University of Michigan provide suggested processes and wording for addressing this reality.

Addressing antiquated, non-standard, exclusionary, and potentially offensive terms in evidence syntheses and systematic searches. Townsend, Whitney; Anderson, Patricia; Capellari, Emily; Haines, Kate; Hansen, Sam; James, LaTeesa; MacEachern, Mark; Rana, Gurpreet; Saylor, Kate. 2022-09-09.

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