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Systematic Searching

Self-paced user guide with practical tips for researchers conducting systematic searching

Block Building

  • Each block represents a concept
  • Cluster related subject-terms/ synonyms/ variables/ keywords for each concept block
  • Each concept block is searched separately
  • Blocks are combined to get final results
    Block building example

Building a Search Strategy in Databases

  • Search for each block separately and use the database Search History to combine searches with appropiate Boolean operators.
  • Within the same block/ concept, combine subject terms with keywords using the OR operator.
  • Across different blocks/ concepts, combine blocks using the AND operator.

Block Building databases


  • Check if your search strategy retrieves highly relevant/ key papers for your reserach topic.

Boolean Operators

Boolean logic defines logical relationships between terms in a search. The key Boolean search operators are AND, OR and NOT..

In general, the AND and NOT operators narrow a search . The OR operator broadens a search  Use the NOT operator with caution as it may result in exclusion of studies.
Boolean operators

Quick Tips for Keywords/ Phrases

Consider Synonyms and Word Variant – Truncations, Wildcards, Proximity Operators

  • Plurals, tenses, alternate spelling, conjunctions, acronyms
  • Can specify truncations (e.g., keywords diets, dietary, dietician, dietetics can be searched as one keyword ‘diet*’)
  • %, *, $, #,? commonly used as wildcards (e.g. color, colo$r)
  • Single versus multiple letter wildcards (to replace exactly one character, or zero to one characters)
  • Different syntax for different databases
  • Some databases such as Scopus automatically stem words (search for variations on words)
  • Can specify proximity of terms – search for two or more words that occur within a specified number of words (or fewer) of each other in the database
  • Quoted phrases, ADJ/x, NEAR/x, WITHIN/x commonly used, where x represents two or more words that occur within x number of words of each other in the database. E.g. project N1 manag* will retrieve ‘project manager’, ‘project management’ and ‘managing projects’, ‘management of projects’, ‘project logistics management’, ‘project risk management’.