Are there any shortcuts in creating search strategies to collect information for systematic reviews? Wichor Bramer advocates using MS Word macros to translate strategies from one database to another. We had a go at creating one during this workshop but – and this is the only downside to Wichor and Gerdien’s workshop – there wasn’t enough time to experiment. Once you get it done, it ends up as a search paragraph that only needs minor editing. For example, if you start in EMBASE first, you have to add TI and AB for Medline in EBSCOHost. Another example is if you have adjacency numbers, you have to edit them according to what interface you are using (NEAR/3 in EMBASE is really 2 words whereas in EBSCOHost N3 is 3 words) etc. So much easier than copying and pasting it line by line. How do you do it? For ease of process, always start with a single database (they recommend EMBASE.com). Then in a word doc, write ( ) and within the parenthesis ‘ ‘ /exp, then your desired thesaurus term and the staying within the parenthesis, ( ):ab,ti . It will take me a lot of practice! Full details in the handout: [Improving efficiency & confidence in systematic literature searching]. There is a slight error in the handout though – DE is only used in PsycINFO for non-major subjects. All other subjects in EBSCOHost use MH. Wichor’s team have made the macros they use available online. Download and installation instructions are given in the handout.
This isn’t advocating speed (though you do speed up naturally the longer your acquaintances with databases) – care and thought still needs to be put into developing the search strategy. I learnt some useful tips: use truncation in PubMed MeSH database (I don’t know why I didn’t think of trying this!), not out individual thesaurus terms per element to see if any relevant articles appear (and check what thesaurus terms relevant articles use) – vice versa for title/abstract terms (also scan relevant article abstracts for terms not used in the title/abstract), and use floating subheadings with thesaurus terms to increase specificity. Wichor also mentioned that including adjectives in the search query could introduce bias eg harsh parenting. I hadn’t thought of it in that way before, but I have thought that using them, especially in the Outcomes section of PICO, may restrict results unnecessarily. How many people use those sorts of terms in an abstract?
I’m glad I was able to attend this workshop – thank you Wichor and the team at Erasmus MC.
30.06.15 Update: Wichor has updated the handout and the corrected version is here.