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Systematic reviews

Overview of systematic review steps and resources to assist researchers conducting reviews.


Handsearching is a critical part of the review to find materials not found through traditional searches. It is a manual process to examine and identify further relevant studies and includes:

  • Perusing the pages of key journals, conferences and other sources
  • Checking reference lists of identified articles and documents

Why is it important?

  • Not all databases index items comprehensively. This may be because not all information is included in records or because not all content of the journal is indexed.
  • Searches may not be comprehensive enough or may not include relevant key terms.
  • Authors may not have described articles accurately with key terms used.
  • Allows more detailed scanning of key journals and other sources.
  • Some sources are not included in traditional databases.
  • Ensures that relevant studies are not overlooked.

The Cochrane Training link below provides further information on handsearching:

Citation chaining

Citation chaining is a method that allows you to search forward (snowballing) or backward (pearling) in time - going from one relevant article to many. If you have already found a few relevant articles, this method will help you to find many more articles on a similar topic.

Each database or information source operates in a different manner, and so it may not be apparent how to take advantage of the research you find. Some key areas of an item record to look for are headings or icons such as:

  • Cited by
  • References
  • More like this
  • Controlled vocabulary / Subject headings / Tags
  • Author submitted subject headings. 

The quick reference guide below provides instructions on how to do this using the Scopus database: