Report that search strategy!

What is the clearest way to communicate a systematic search strategy?

The relevant section of the PRISMA statement (2020) – PRISMA-S – is what we need.

Tip: print out the detailed checklist, although PRISMA-S doesn’t prescribe a template.

Here’s what’s in the 16-point checklist:

Information sources and methods

  1. Database names – and the platform
  2. Multi-database searching – the name of the platform and all the databases searched (inexperienced researchers often forget to list the databases as if they are not quite aware of what lies behind an interface)
  3. Study registries
  4. Online sources and browsing – including tables of contents, conference proceedings and websites, and how they were browsed or searched.
  5. Citation searching – which type: reference harvesting or studies which cite the index reference, and how the citations were found (e.g. browsing reference lists, via a citation index, email alerts
  6. Contacts: records contact with authors, manufacturers, experts etc. for further studies.
  7. Other methods – anything else

Search strategies

  1. Full search strategies – interestingly, the requirement is to copy and paste each strategy exactly as run, for each database – but my note is that source interfaces are not always very clear with regards to term mapping or operator application.
  2. Limits and restrictions – to specify whether no limits were applied, or give limits AND the justification for them.
  3. Search filters – details of published filters used, plus source, or any modification.
  4. Prior work – record use or adaptation of previous literature searches, along with the source.
  5. Updates – methods used to update the search (no mention of DATE of update, but see next point). Examples could include simply rerunning the search, or using email alerts.
  6. Dates of searches. The date when the last search occurred.

Peer review

14. The checklist simply says ‘Describe any search peer review process’.
The PRESS Guideline deals with this in more detail, for the primary database search: see my blog post: How good is your search strategy?

Managing records

15. Document the total number of records from each source, and
16. Describe deduplication (including software used).


Rethlefsen ML, Kirtley S, Waffenschmidt S, Ayala AP, Moher D, Page MJ, Koffel JB, PRISMA-S Group. PRISMA-S: An extension to the PRISMA Statement for reporting literature searches in systematic reviews. Available at: Last updated February 27, 2020.

PRISMA-S checklist

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close