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Systematic Reviews: Manage search results

A guide for researchers undertaking a systematic review

Managing search results

Reference management software such as EndNote can be used to store, manage, organise, search and reference literature found during the search portion of the systematic review and can also be useful in managing the process of the systematic review more holistically.

Features of EndNote:

  • Groups - manually create groups of references according to your own requirements.
  • Smart Groups - set up criteria for a group which will then be automatically populated.
  • Labels - implement a series of labels for your library.
  • Note taking - fields such as Research Notes and Notes offer the ability to store notes within an EndNote record.
  • Custom fields - Create custom EndNote fields which are automatically added to each EndNote record. For example, you might like to create a custom field for the members of your review team to sign off when including and excluding studies.
  • Record numbers - each new record added to an EndNote library will be assigned a record number, unique to that record. 
  • Attaching PDFs/full text - attach or link PDFs and other documents to an EndNote record. Useful for linking the full text document.
  • Searching your EndNote library - easily search your entire EndNote library, or particular fields in your library.
  • Display fields - choose which fields are displayed as default in your library window.
  • Sharing your EndNote library - share your library with the rest of your review team and other collaborators.

This case study from the University of Exeter provides examples of how researchers can used EndNote to manage the review process.

The University of Newcastle has produced an Endnote tips for Systematic Reviewers guide.

There are several software packages available which provide guidance and management of the systematic review process. You may like to consider using one of these to streamline the process of your review.


  • The Covidence software produced by Cochrane is highly respected and available for individual subscription through their website.


You may also want to consult the Systematic Review Toolbox - a community-driven and searchable catalogue of tools that support the systematic review process across multiple domains (including Cochrane's tools). The focus of the Toolbox is on identifying software tools to support systematic reviews, however other tools or support mechanisms (such as checklists, guidelines and reporting standards) can also be found.


Rayyan is a free web tool, that can be used to create systematic reviews with easy collaboration within your Systematic Review team. It is also available as a mobile app.

Documenting your search

The search strategy you use for your Systematic Review should be documented in detail and included as part of the published review. The search should be recorded as part of the protocol before beginning the rest of the review process, in order to limit bias and allow critique and reproducibility. You should record:

  • the name (and version if applicable) of the database/resources used;
  • the search string used in each database/resource including keywords, subject headings, any database syntax used and how these were combined;
  • the number of results returned in each database/resource;
  • the date on which you ran the search;
  • any limits you applied (e.g. language, publication date range).

We advise that you save your searches in each database where possible so that you can refer back to them later.

Ideally, as well as describing the search strategy in the methodology section of your review (or as an Appendix to the review) these results will then form a part of the PRISMA flow diagram which is included in your review.


Examples of documented and published search strategies

  • A Cochrane review in which the full search strings for each database is listed as an appendix (p. 64-67).
  • A systematic review published in Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology which provides a summary of sources searched and keywords used (under Sources).


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