Skip to main content
The University of Arizona

How to Conduct a Systematic Review

Step 1-Conducting a Systematic Review

1. Choose a topic

A. Make sure you can phrase your topic as an answerable question

B. Review the exiting literature to see what has been done on your topic already

C. Decide which documents you will or will not include in your systematic review

  • Inclusion criteria
  • Exclusion criteria

2. Identify your KEYWORDS

A. Identify the main and unique KEYWORDS

B. Apply quotation marks to your and/or asterisks to your search

C. Identify synonyms or related terms

3. Connect your KEYWORDS

A. Use AND to connect independent words

B. Use OR to connect related words

C. Use NOT ro eliminate irrelevant words

D. Type out all your KEYWORDS with connectors

E. If you have more than one KEYWORD in a row, wrap parenthese around the entire row. This is called nesting and keeps related concepts together.

F. Check your search phrase for redundancies

4. Select your database(s)

A. PubMed

B. Embase

C. Cochrane Library

D. Web of Science


F. Google Scholar

5. Find your subjects

A. Translate your KEYWORDS into Subjects

B. Add subjects you found to your search

C. Check your search phrase

6. Run your search

A. Place your search phrase in the selected databases advanced search box

B. Make sure your search phrase is turning up results that are relevant to you

C. Repeat the search with your new phrase. Searching is a feedback loop

D. Change database(s) and run your search again

7. Apply your criteria

A. Write down the number of search results

B. Remember your inclusion and exclusion criteria from Step 1? You can now apply these criteria to the database filters and limits.

C. Keep track of the number of results you obtain in each database after you apply the filters and limits.

8. Manage your citations

A. Implement a citation manager such as RefWorks, EndNote or Mendeley

B. Export the citation from the database to the citation manager

9. What's Next?

A. Find any other types of resources you are interested in that may not have been included in the databases

B. Document everything

C. Read and evaluate the sources you have found






Conducting a Systematic Review

The Institute of Medicine recommends working with a librarian or other information specialist to plan out your search strategy and to peer-review the final strategy used. Below are some resources that you might consider searching. Remember, a systematic review search should be comprehensive and reproducible. A Mayo Clinic librarian has written a wonderful blog post entitled, "I Want to Do a Systematic Review." This post is a must read for anyone new to systematic reviews.