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Systematic Reviews, Scoping Reviews, and other Knowledge Syntheses

Exporting search results

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.

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

We recommend exporting RIS files that can be imported into Covidence for deduplication and screening.

You can use EndNote or other citation software as an intermediary step, although it is not required. EndNote is useful for managing references and full text.

If EndNote does not seem to include an export filter for the database you are using or the available export filter does not seem to be working properly, search the web for [database name] EndNote export filter, or visit to search for an updated or additional filter.

Ovid Online databases: Exporting and documenting

Exporting records from databases on Ovid (MEDLINE, Embase, Global Health, APA PsycInfo, et al.)

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. From Ovid, just above your search results, either check the box "All" or enter ranges of records up to 6000 (this is the maximum set at McGill), e.g., 1-6000, then click Export, then select Format: RIS; Fields: Complete Reference; then click Export; be careful if exporting in batches of 6,000 as Ovid may time out; do this until all of your records are exported
  2. Use a standardized filename for your .ris files such as SearchConcepts_DatabaseName_Export_yyyymmdd.ris, e.g., LiverTransplantPrehabilitation_MEDLINE_Export_20230322.ris (if exporting in batches, identify ris files accordingly, e.g., LiverTransplantPrehabilitation_MEDLINE_Export_20230322_1-6000.ris);
  3. Import the ris file(s) into Covidence and label them by database name; check that the # of records matches up

Documenting your Ovid MEDLINE, Embase, Global Health, and/or APA PsycInfo et al. searches

  1. Document the search: Use the Copy Search History Details button below the search history to copy/paste the search into your documentation or records. If you would like to upload a search to DataVerse, save the file in .rtf format with a standardized filename along with your other searches; we recommend SearchConcepts_Search_SearcherLastName_yyyymmdd.rtf as the search filename, e.g., LiverTransplantPrehabilitation_Search_Boruff_20230322.rtf 
    • Copying and pasting the search history details in their exact version will avoid transcription errors 
  2. Use the Copy Search History Link button below the search history to create a reusable URL for your search strategy, and/or
  3. Save the search history to your personal Ovid account (create an account for free) and identify the search by database name and date; this facilitates rerunning the search later if an update is needed (the search history link suggested in the step above is also useful for this). Document your Ovid account information as well.

PubMed: Exporting and documenting

Exporting records from PubMed

  • From PubMed, there are two options:
    • Click on Save > Selection: all results and Format: Pubmed; the file will be saved as .txt, which can be imported into Covidence or EndNote
    • Click on Send to > Citation manager > Selection: All results > Create file, File as Type: All Files and File name: SearchConcepts_PubMed_Export_yyyymmdd.ris -- changed from .nbib (be sure to choose an appropriate location for the file); Covidence will not allow you to import the file with the .nbib extension, but you can change the extension manually to .ris

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

Change the "Selection" to "all results"

Documenting your PubMed search

There are a couple of options for documenting your PubMed search:

  • To save a version that can later be rerun fairly easily, but which is saved in a hard-to-read format: Log into your PubMed account and save the search for your records and for future updates by clicking Create alert under the search box. 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; or 
  • From the Advanced screen, click Download (upper right corner of History and Search Details) to maintain the original structure of your search. The search will be saved by default as a .csv file. If you need to rerun this search at a later date, multiple-line searches will need to be copied and pasted into the PubMed Advanced Search Builder to reproduce the search.

CINAHL: Exporting and documenting

Exporting records from CINAHL

  1. In CINAHL, click on View Results for the list of records you will be exporting
  2. For large sets of records: In upper right corner, select Share > Export results: E-mail a link to download exported results (this option is activated at the institutional level, e.g., it's available at McGill but may not be available at other institutions) 
  3. Enter the email address to which to send the records and make sure RIS Format is selected in the right-hand column
  4. You will receive an email (sometimes the delay can be a few hours, and you have 36 hours for the download) with a link to a .zip file: Save the .zip file to your computer and then extract the file
  5. Rename the extracted RIS file with standardized naming such as SearchConcepts_CINAHL_Export_yyyymmdd.ris, (be sure to save it in an appropriate location); this file can now be imported into Covidence

Documenting your CINAHL search

  • Document the search: Click on Print Search History to view the search, then copy and paste it into your search documentation, reformatting the table as needed

Exporting records from Google Scholar

You can use a tool called Publish or Perish (download the program)

Note: You Cannot have syntax errors in your query or you will get 0 results

Export up to 1000 records > Save file as RIS

If using EndNote, you may be able to update the bibliographic information up to a point: Select all (or do in smaller batches given the process can take a lot of time), go to Menu: References > Find Reference Updates

  • Will automatically replace missing data and add updated/corrected data if needed
  • Can take time
  • The abstract may still not be available: When it comes time to remove duplicates across multiple databases, import these records last in the deduplication process (e.g., into EndNote if you deduplicate in EndNote, or into Covidence if you use their deduplication feature), so that better quality records (i.e., those imported before the Google Scholar records) are prioritized


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Due to a large influx of requests, there may be an extended wait time for librarian support on knowledge syntheses.


Find a librarian in your subject area to help you with your knowledge synthesis project.


Or contact the librarians at the
Schulich Library of Physical Sciences, Life Sciences, and Engineering

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