Skip to Main Content

Literature Reviews (Health Sciences)

Why should I document my search?

If you collaborate with a librarian on your search strategies, they will document search details.

Documenting the search will ensure that we:

  • keep track of what we've done so that we don't repeat unproductive searches
  • reuse successful search strategies for future papers
  • help describe the search process for manuscripts
  • justify the search process

This is a critical step for rigorous review papers, such as systematic reviews. Documenting searches for traditional (narrative) literature reviews is not essential but will help you stay organized and perhaps save you some time.

What should I document?

Document the following during the search process:

  • databases and resources searched
  • search strategies for each resource, including the search terms and limits used (e.g. dates, language, etc.)
  • the date each search was conducted
  • the number of results for each search strategy
  • notes on any individual journals that were searched separately

How can I document my search?

We recommend that you document your search strategies using a tool with which you're comfortable. Commonly used tools include desktop or web-based word processors and spreadsheet software. Web-based software (e.g. MUSC Box, Google Docs or Google Sheets) should be considered for collaborative projects.

Below are examples of how you can document your search strategies using either Microsoft Word or Microsoft Excel.

Search strategy documentation using Microsoft Word        

If you are doing a systematic review, you will need to include a PRISMA Flow Diagram in your published manuscript.