How good is your search strategy?

How should peer review of electronic search strategies be carried out?

The Peer Review of Electronic Search Strategies (PRESS) Guideline Statement 2015 describes how. Here’s a digest.

Overview of the PRESS Guideline Statement

  • The PRESS Statement applies to the primary database search, usually from Medline, as a component of the evidence gathering strategy for systematic reviews and health technology assessments.
  • This 2015 version updated an earlier 2008-10 version. Based on evidence from a systematic review, web survey and consensus group of experts, nothing needed adding to the earlier list, but one point – about translating searches to other databases – was removed from the tool and the task left to searchers’ discretion.
  • The evidence shows that a structured peer review really can help pick up errors and improve recall of search strategies.

The six aspects addressed by the Statement

  1. Translation of the search question
  2. Boolean and proximity operators
  3. Subject headings (in that database)
  4. Text word search
  5. Spelling, syntax and line numbers
  6. Limits and filters.

Throughout, the associated checklist examines whether the elements have been selected appropriately and applied correctly. The accompanying guidance gives common pitfalls to watch out for.

Using the PRESS Guideline Statement

The Statement comes with checklist and guidance tools. As well as being used for peer review, these tools could also be used as self-audit. Another option for self-audit is to follow the search guidance chapter of the latest Cochrane Handbook (2020).

However, there remain benefits from getting an independent expert check of a search strategy.

References

McGowan J, Sampson M, Salzwedel DM, Cogo E, Foerster V, Lefebvre C. PRESS peer review of electronic search strategies: 2015 guideline statement. J Clin Epidemiol. 2016;75:40-6.

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 www.training.cochrane.org/handbook.

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