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The University of Arizona

How to Conduct a Systematic Review

Tip 1: Keywords

Keywords are the words we use in daily life: 'heart attack,' 'cancer,' etc. You simply enter them in  a database's search box(es). However, when you search for a keyword, you are depending on the authors of an article using the same keywords and they will match the words used in the article's title, abstract and it will show up in your search results.

Tip 2: Subjects

Subjects are a field's professional terms: 'myocardial infarction,' neoplasms,' etc. Subjects are assigned to each citation by indexers to ensure your searches catch all articles on a topic evern if the authors did not use the same keywords you did. For example, if you search of 'lung cancer' but the author used the phrase 'pulmonary neoplasms' instead, you may not find that article with keywords, but you will find the article if you search fo the subject 'lung neoplasms.'

Step 5-Conducting a Systematic Review

5. Find your subjects

A. Translate your KEYWORDS into Subjects 


  • Most databases will include an area (Mesh, subject headings, thesaurus, etc.) where you can enter keywords and find the corresponding subjects. Each database has its own subjects, so you need to translate your keywords in each database you use.


B. Add subjects you found to your search


  • In the search boxes use the Boolean operators (Connecters). To make sure you catch as many articles on your topics as possible, use a combination of subjects and keywords. Since articles are indexed by hand it can take a while for an article to receive a subject. Keywords will pick up these newer subject-less articles.
    • ​Example of research question: How does sleep deprivation affect learning in college students?
      • Example: PubMed's MeSH Terms
      • ("Sleep Deprivation"[Mesh] OR "sleep deprivation") AND ("Learning"[Mesh] AND "Students"[Mesh] AND ("Universities"[Mesh] OR college)

C. Check your search phrase


  • You will have a search phrase for each database since every databases' subjects are different.