Once you have developed a focused question and determined your inclusion and exclusion criteria you need to create an effective and efficient search process to retrieve all relevant evidence from a range of sources.
Searching is an iterative process. You will need to develop a search and continually review and refine it for constant improvement.
It is useful to build a 'gold set' of relevant references before you develop your search strategy. The papers in your 'gold set' can then be used to help you identify relevant search terms and to test that your search strategy will retrieve these items and other relevant references on your topic.
Sources for this 'gold set' may include:
The search strategy for a systematic review needs to be comprehensive in order to capture all the relevant studies.
The subject headings may differ between databases. This is because databases classify articles using different criteria.
You can create a concept map to list the subjects and key terms that you have identified. This list can be quite extensive and it can be helpful to use an Excel spreadsheet.
Boolean operators are used to combine the different concepts in your topic (or the elements in your PICO question).
The operators that are used to combine terms in a search strategy are AND, OR, NOT.
Proximity operators are extremely useful when looking for combinations of keywords in a phrase.
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