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CRDS - Practicum Students - Resources for Literature Reviews

Search Planning Worksheets

The Search Planning Worksheets will help you to develop a systematic search strategy.

Creating an Account on Ebsco and OVID

The link below provides instructions on how to create an account in Ebsco (CINAHL)

Once you create an account in CINAHL, it will be the same account for other Ebsco databases.

  1. Go to the CINAHL database
  2. Create an account in CINAHL

The link below provides instructions on how to create an account in OVID (Medline)

Once you create an account in Medline, it will be the same account for other OVID databases including PsycINFO and Embase.

  1. Go to the MEDLINE database
  2. Creating an Account in OVID

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How to Search Systematically

The data in a systematic review are articles.  You find your data through a very thorough, comprehensive, systematic search.

For a systematic review, you need to use:

  • keywords
  • subject headings
  • boolean operators 
    • OR to combine synonyms
    • AND to combine concepts 

Systematic searching is not easy.  It is time consuming and frustrating.

Please remember to contact Alix ( for help searching and collecting your data.

The University of Toronto Library has created an excellent series of short videos on how to search CINAHL.

The University of Toronto Library has created an excellent series of short videos on how to search Medline.

You search PsycINFO the same way.

Saving and Export Searches

It will take time to finalize your search strategy.

You need to brainstorm keywords and discover subject headings.  

While scanning a relevant article, you may find another keyword you hadn't considered. Rather than having to type your entire search over again, you can rerun it, and add in the new keywords.

Also, as it takes time to develop each search in different databases, it is a "best practice" to run all your searches on the same day, so that your data collection (ie your searches) is collected at once.  Saving each search is the easiest way to be able to run them on the same day.

The videos available through the link below provide information on how to save your searches as well as how to edit your searches.

Saving Searches


The 27 checklist items pertain to the content of a systematic review and meta-analysis, which include the title, abstract, methods, results, discussion and funding.

The checklist is probably more than you need for NURS503, but it is a good checklist to review your systematic review document.

PRISMA Checklist

The PRISMA Flow Diagram shows how you found the N (number) of articles/studies that you are including in your study.  It is the flow diagram to use to show how many articles you found through all your database searching, how many duplicates, how many you screened by title and abstract, then how many you screened text, and then finally how many articles/studies are included in your systematic review.

PRISMA Flow Diagram


Covidence is a web-based software platform that streamlines the production of systematic reviews, and literature reviews.  It helps you to review all the retrieved records from the database searches.


  1. One person in the group sets up an account
    • Click on the Covidence link, and set up your account
    • You will receive an Invite Email, that you need to click and respond to, in order to activate your account
    • Call your review something meaningful to the topic you are investigating
  2. This person invites the other group members, by sending emails to each individual
  3. Set up how many reviewers can screen
  4. Set up who will be the deciding reviewer

Covidence provides excellent short videos on how to use the online program.

You need only to know a portion of the program.

  1. Main Steps in Using Covidence
    • Note, you do NOT use Covidence for: quality assessment, data extraction,export
    • When you upload results from your database search (in RIS format), Covidence will automatically find the duplicates for you
  2. Covidence Knowledge Base
    • If you have questions on how to use Covidence, the answer may be found in the Knowledge Base.

Documenting Your Search Methodology

You need to keep track of the following. You may find it useful to create an Excel spreadsheet or a Word document.

  • Databases searched, including interface (e.g. CINAHL Plus, Ebsco; MEDLINE, OVID)
  • Date you ran your final searches 
  • Search strategy -- including the keywords and subject headings. Use this as a basis for your search narrative
  • Limits used such as English only, peer-reviewed, or date restrictions
  • Search history -- you can cut and paste the search from each database. Add this as an Appendix so the reader can see exactly how your conducted your search
  • Number of results (PRISMA diagram)
    • from all databases
    • after duplicates removed (keep track of how many duplicates)
    • how many excluded in title abstract screening
    • how many excluded in full text screening, and the reasons why each article is excluded​


We searched MEDLINE (In-Process & Other Non-Indexed Citations, Ovid MEDLINE® Daily, and Ovid MEDLINE® 1946 to Present), EMBASE, PsycINFO, CINAHL, PsycARTICLES, Joanna Briggs Institute EBP Database, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, SocINDEX, and Family & Society Studies Worldwide. We focused on two main concepts: breastfeeding and self-efficacy. We used synonyms and variations of relevant keywords, and subject headings for each concept. We pretested the search for comprehensiveness in MEDLINE to ensure that known relevant research was retrieved. We translated the MEDLINE search (see Supplementary Table 1) for each database, with the same keywords across databases, and subject headings responsive to the controlled vocabulary of each database. We located additional studies by conducting a reverse look-up examining all intervention articles citing the original BSE scale development articles (Dennis, 2003; Dennis & Faux, 1999).

Brockway, M., Benzies, K., & Hayden, K. A. (2017). Interventions to improve breastfeeding self-efficacy and resultant breastfeeding rates: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Human Lactation33(3), 486-499.

Search Strategy for Identification of Studies

A health sciences librarian (KAH) and investigator (SP) developed the search strategy based upon a previously published search (Heinrichs et al., 2013). The search was completed on November 22, 2014 using truncated keywords and subject headings. Keywords included peripheral intravenous catheterization, success/fail, adult, and relevant synonyms. Each search was internally deduplicated to remove multiple reports of the same study. To ensure a rigourous search methodology we pretested our search and received peer review feedback from a Health Sciences Librarian based upon the Peer Review of Electronic Search Strategies Guidelines (McGowan et al., 2010). We searched MEDLINE (OVID), EMBASE (OVID), Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (EBSCO), and the Cochrane Database of Interventions for relevant articles published in English. We also chose to search the TRIP, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (OVID), Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technology in Health, Proquest Dissertation and Theses Global, and Open Grey databases. To capture new and conventional interventions no date limits were incorporated. Each search was saved to re-run for updating. The MEDLINE search strategy was translated for each database. Two independent reviewers (SP and KB) screened the first 100 titles and abstracts with a 99% inter-rater agreement. Disagreement was settled by consensus. SP obtained the full text of all potentially relevant study reports for comparison to the inclusion criteria. If the full text was not available the study was excluded. It was not feasible to contact authors for full text reports nor hand search journals.

Parker, S. I., Benzies, K. M., Hayden, K. A., & Lang, E. S. (2017). Effectiveness of interventions for adult peripheral intravenous catheterization: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. International Emergency Nursing 31, 15-21.