Appendix 3: Documenting the search process

The search should be described briefly in the methods section of the review. The detailed description can be made available as a web document or as an appendix in a report, where space allows.

Describing electronic database searches

The description should include:

The name of the database searched

The name of the database provider/system used

The date when the search was run

The years covered by the search

The full strategy used. It is preferable to reproduce the strategy with the minimum of editing. Removing the number of hits identified, for example, can introduce errors and hide genuine mistakes.

For example:


MEDLINE was searched using the OvidSP interface on 06/11/07 for the period 1996 to October Week 4 2007



1     (smoking or antismoking or anti-smoking).ti,ab. (53347)

2     Smoking/ (39157)

3     (smoker or smokers or tobacco or nicotine or cigar$).ti,ab. (53978)

4     Tobacco/ or Tobacco, Smokeless/ (9039)

5     "Tobacco Use Disorder"/ (3192)

6     Nicotine/ (6990)

7     or/1-6 (91596)

8     exp Mass Media/ or Cellular Phone/ (13165)

9     Electronic Mail/ or Radio/ or Television/ or Telephone/ (6855)

10     Advertising/ or Hotlines/ or Nonverbal Communication/ (6927)

11     Multimedia/ or Communications Media/ or Pamphlets/ (2296)

12     Health Education/ or Internet/ or Health Promotion/ (55884)

13     Telecommunications/ (1517)

14     (mass adj media).ti,ab. (949)

15     ((advert$ or campaign$ or program$) adj3 (tv or television or cable or cinema or cinemas or theatre or theatres or theater or theaters or movies or media or newspaper$ or journal$ or magazine$)).ti,ab. (1466)

16     ((advert$ or campaign$ or program$) adj3 (broadcast$ or televised)).ti,ab. (67)

17     (internet adj3 (advert$ or campaign$ or information or program$)).ti,ab. (1349)

18     (sms or text messag$ or texting).ti,ab. (754)

19     ((pod adj cast$) or podcast$).ti,ab. (28)

20     (smoking adj day$).ti,ab. (22)

21     (selfhelp or (self adj help) or (counter adj marketing) or (consumer adj advocacy)).ti,ab. (1495)

22     ((quit adj3 win) or smokeout or (smoke adj out)).ti,ab. (54)

23     ((advert$ or campaign$ or program$ or intervention$) adj3 (nationwide or statewide or countrywide or citywide or national or nation wide or state wide or country wide or city wide)).ti,ab. (7031)

24     or/8-23 (88367)

25     7 and 24 (5364)

Describing journal hand searches

Provide a list of journal full titles in alphabetical order. State the earliest month and year searched, together with the latest month and year searched, and any missing journal issues which were not searched.

Describing searches of conference proceedings

Provide details of the conference proceedings searched, for example:

Proceedings with a title in addition to the conference name:

Substance use : individual behaviour, social interactions, markets, and politics. 24th Arne Ryde Symposium; 2004, Aug 13-14; Lund.


Proceedings without a separate title:

International Meeting on the Economic, Social, and Health Issues in Tobacco Control; 2001 Dec 3-4; Kobe City


Proceedings in a language other than English:

Arrêt de la consommation du tabac : Conférence de consensus [Consensus conference on smoking cessation]; 1998 Oct 8-9; Charcot.


Proceedings also published as part of a journal:

Proceedings of the 6th Scientific Conference: Tobacco or health, eternal problem, new challenges; 2005 Nov 17-18; Poznan. (Przeglad Lekarski. 2005;62(10):947-1226)

Describing the methods used to search relevant internet sources

Report the website, the URL, the date searched, any specific sections searched and the search terms used. For example:

The Action for Smoking and Health website ( was searched on 12/10/2006 using the on-site search engine with single search terms: ‘mass media’, ‘radio’, ‘television’, ‘film’, ‘advertising’. The section of the website labelled ‘Tobacco Industry Documents’ was scanned in detail.

Describing other searches

Provide a brief summary of other sources searched. For example:

The reference lists of studies selected for inclusion were scanned for relevant studies.


The manufacturing company United Tobacco Substitutes International was contacted for further information (15/11/06).


Citation searches in Science Citation Index (15/11/06) were carried out for papers citing the recent key paper: Smith P and Jones L. Innovative mass media smoking campaigns. Journal of Tobacco Control Innovation, 2004;23:560-569.

Describing the search process

The following example shows how a search can be described briefly in a final report when it is possible to put the full searches in an appendix.

The following databases were searched for relevant studies: ASSIA (via CSA 1990 to 06/March/06); CENTRAL (via Cochrane Library issue 2/2006, 12/April/06, 12/April/06);  CINAHL (via WebSPIRS 1990 to 2006 wk 4, 01/April/06); DH-Data (via Datastar 1994 to 14/March/06, 14/March/06); EMBASE (via Dialog 1974 to 2006 week 8, 16/March/06); MEDLINE (via Ovid, 1966 to week 10 2006, 15/March/06); PsycINFO (via Datastar 1806 to 2006 week 2, 17/March/06). The search strategies used text words and relevant indexing to capture the concept of preventing the uptake of smoking in young people. The full strategies are shown in the appendix. The reference lists of included papers were assessed for additional relevant studies and the journal Tobacco Control was handsearched for the period January 2000-June 2006. The following websites were searched: National Guideline Clearinghouse ( 15/Oct/06) and Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) ( 16/Oct/06).


The following example shows how a search can be described briefly for a journal article where high levels of detail may not be permitted in the body of the paper:


The following databases were searched from inception to March/April 2006 for relevant studies: ASSIA, CENTRAL, CINAHL, DH-Data, EMBASE, MEDLINE, PsycINFO. The literature search used the following terms (with synonyms and closely related words): "smoking" combined with "prevention" and "young people". The searches were not limited by study design or language of publication. Further studies were identified by examining the reference lists of all included articles, handsearching the journal Tobacco Control from 2000 to 2006, and searching relevant websites. The full list of sources and the search strategy are available from the authors.


A detailed search description included as an appendix to a report, or as a web document, or available from the authors should include the detail described above, plus all the search strategies for each database and resource, as shown in Q.1 to Q.5 above.

The following are examples of the use of appendices for search strategies in CRD Reports:


Prostate biopsy methods is an example of a narrow, well defined topic where brief details of the search strategy are given in the report methods section (pages 23-4), then a clear, well set out and very detailed appendix itemises exactly what was done (pages 87-97).

CRD Report 29 - Diagnostic value of systematic prostate biopsy methods in the investigation for prostate cancer: a systematic review. 2005. 


Fuller information about the searches is given in the methods section of this report (pages 4-5) with additional detail in the appendix (pages 25-30).

CRD Report 32 - Systematic review of interventions to increase participation of cancer patients in randomised controlled trials. 2006.


This is an example of how an updated search looking at a broad subject area has been presented. Brief details are given in the review methods section (page 1) and readers are referred to the full details in the appendix (pages 41-50).

CRD Report 35 - The treatment and management of chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) / myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) in adults and children: update of CRD Report 22. 2007.

Please note that in the three examples above the search strategies have been reported without including the numbers of records identified by individual search statements. As stated earlier in this section, CRD would now recommend the strategies being reproduced with a minimum of editing so there is less opportunity for errors to be introduced.