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Systematic Reviews: Identifying

PIECES: Systematic Review Process


Identifying the Studies

  1. Perform an exhaustive and systematic search for evidence. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine recommends working “with a librarian or other information specialist trained in performing systematic reviews to plan the search strategy” (Standard 3.1.1).
  2. Develop a search strategy for MEDLINE using a combination of medical subject headings (MeSH) and keywords. The search strategy should target studies that match the preset criteria but be broad enough to capture all relevant studies. An experienced librarian should independently peer-review the search strategy.
  3. Translate the MEDLINE search for the other selected databases; an exhaustive search should include at least three databases (e.g., MEDLINE, Cochrane Library, Embase) and grey literature (e.g., clinical trials registers, conference proceedings).
  4. Run a search for each database, systematically documenting the search terms, number of results, and date run.
  5. Export the results to a citation management or systematic review management tool. Document the total number of results retrieved from database searching before de-duplication of records.


Morton, S., Berg, A., Levit, L., & Eden, J. (Eds.). (2011). Finding what works in health care: standards for systematic reviews. National Academies Press.

Systematic Review Databases

There are a variety of databases one can search for existing systematic reviews to identify if your topic has already been done as an systematic review. 

Search Tip Tutorials

Every database has the same core functions they like to operate off of, such as using keywords or the Boolean Operators AND, OR, NOT. However each database vendor designs their databases slightly different; taking time to read or watch their help documentation will help you become a power user and speed up the search process.

Grey Literature

Grey literature refers to non-conventional, fugitive, and sometimes ephemeral publications. It helps to minimize the publication bias in systematic reviews. Some common types of the grey literature include:

  • Reports (pre-prints, preliminary progress and advanced reports, technical reports, statistical reports, memoranda, state-of-the art reports, market research reports, etc.)
  • Clinical trials
  • Theses and dissertations
  • Conference proceedings
  • Technical specifications and standards, non-commercial translations, bibliographies, technical and commercial documentation, and official documents not published commercially (primarily government reports and documents)* 
    (Source: Grey Literature Report )

The Grey Literature Network Service was founded in 1992. The goal of GreyNet is to facilitate dialog, research, and communication between persons and organisations in the field of grey literature. Its main activities include the International Conference Series on Grey Literature, the creation and maintenance of web-based resources, a moderated Listserv, a combined Distribution List, The Grey Journal (TGJ), as well as curriculum development in the field of grey literature.

Grey Literature Report from The New York Academy of Medicine 
    For more information on Grey Literature Report, read  this blog post, and an article

Global Dissertations

FSU Dissertations

Article Management

Keeping Track of Your Searches:

Keeping track of how you conducted the literature search will assist you in creating the best possible search string as well as allow you to write the research method section of the paper. A simple way to do this would be to keep track using either an Excel spreadsheet or GoogleSheets. Below is an example of a search log and a blank copy that is available for download. 

Keeping Track of Selected Papers:


Covidence is a systematic review tool that allows teams to group and filter their collected articles all in one place.

To access: 1) Create a Covidence account with your or email; 2) Request an invitation to join FSU's institutional subscription. Note: Clerkship faculty can request an invitation by emailing

 For an introduction to this tool, please view the following video from Covidence.

This video is part of the Import playlist. Other videos include "Add sources to import file", "Quick tip | How to add full text articles", "Quick tip | Managing duplicates", and "Importing Citations into Covidence from EndNote"

If you do not wish to use a tool such as Covidence, an alternative is to use folders and notes in your preferred citation management tool.

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