Presenting a search strategy

Have you done a structured search related to a literature review or other work? Do you need to present how you found the articles you selected? Are you thinking about how you can present articles that you have found alongside the search, for example via a reference list to another article? Here you can see what information should be included in a search strategy presentation, and some examples of what it might look like.

What should be included in a search strategy presentation?

How can you present your search strategy?

  • Strive to be as transparent as possible, it should preferably be possible for someone else to repeat your search and get the same result.
  • In the methods section you describe how you did: if you did test searches, how you found search words, if you searched with both free-text words and controlled subject headings.
  • In the method section, you can also describe and report articles that you have found in other ways than via the database search, for example if you have found articles via a reference list to another article or by manual search.
  • The complete search strategy is usually also presented in table form. The table can be added as an appendix to the work.
  • In order for you to be able to present your search strategy, it is important that you save the search you have made, in some way. A tip is to cut and paste from the database's "Search history".
  • It is also possible to create an account in the databases to save searches.

What should a search strategy presentation contain?

  • The name of the database
  • The date you did the search
  • Which search terms you have used
  • How you searched (quotes, especially fields, truncations, etc.)
  • How you have combined your search terms
  • If you have used any filter, or restriction (language, year, etc.)

Example of text in the methods section

The searches were conducted during June 2018 in the databases CINAHL, Web of Science and PubMed.

The Mesh terms identified for the PubMed search were adapted to corresponding terms in CINAHL. Every individual search term was supplemented with relevant free text terms. When appropriate, the free text terms have been truncated in order to include alternative word endings.

The search result was limited to articles that were written in English as well as articles published during the last ten years. The full search strategy is included as an appendix.

The database searches were complemented with manual review of the reference lists of relevant articles, which resulted in a few additional articles included in the study.

Examples from different databases

In the tables below we present searches in three different databases. In all databases we have used the topic "Patients' experience of day surgery".

The examples we show below are intended as general support. If there are instructions for your own program, you should use these in the first place.

Example from CINAHL

MH = Exact Subject Heading

Database: CINAHL Date: 2018-06-19 Search words Limits (filter, limits, refine) Number of records
#1 (MH "Ambulatory Surgery")   4,779
#2 day surgery OR outpatient surgery   21,915
#3 #1 OR #2   24,192
#4 (MH "Patient Satisfaction")   31,751
#5 experience* OR perception* OR perspective* OR view*   400,029
#6 #4 OR #5   423,007
#7 (MH "Qualitative Studies+")   96,010
#8 interview* OR focus group*   123,967
#9 #7 OR #8   176,718
#10 #3 AND #6 AND #9   341
#11 #10 Peer Reviewed Published Date: 2008-2018 Narrowed by Language: -English 219

Example from PubMed

Database: PubMed Date: 18-03-04 Search words Limits (filter, limits, refine) Number of records
#1 Ambulatory Surgical Procedures OR day surgery OR outpatient surgery   165,477
#2 Patient Satisfaction OR experience* OR perception* OR perspective OR view   1,914,604
#3 Qualitative Research OR interview* OR focus group*   435,017
#4 #1 AND #2 AND #3   903
#5 #4 Publication dates: 2008-2018 English language 483

Example from Web of Science

Database: Web of Science Dat: 2018-06-19 Search words Limits (filter, limits, refine) Number of records
#1 TOPIC: ("ambulatory surgery" OR "day surgery" OR "outpatient surgery")   5,830
#2 TOPIC: ("patient satisfaction" OR experience* OR perception* OR perspective* OR view*)   3,334,801
#3 TOPIC: (qualitative OR interview* OR "focus group*")   735,303
#4 #1 AND #2 AND #3   105
#5 #4 Refined by: LANGUAGES: (ENGLISH) AND PUBLICATION YEARS: (2018 OR 2017 OR 2016 OR 2015 OR 2014 OR 2013 OR 2012 OR 2011 OR 2010 OR 2009 OR 2008) 74


Guide for students: Structured literature reviews
Guide for students: Structured literature reviews
Students studying in the library in Solna.

Guide for students: Structured literature reviews

A step-by-step guide aimed at Master's students undertaking a structured literature review as part of their Master's thesis. In this guide we will go through the different steps of a structured literature review and provide tips on how to make your search strategy more structured and extensive.

Learn more

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Guidance in information searching

Are you looking for scientific articles or writing references and need advice? You can get help from our librarians. We offer both drop-in via Zoom and booked consultations.

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