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How to Find and Conduct Systematic Reviews

Step-by-step instructions on how to find and conduct systematic reviews, intended for students in the health sciences.


A concept map will help you visualize related terms. Read about concept maps or try a concept mapping tool using the links below.

Sample concept map by the Humboldt State University Library. (Click to enlarge.)


1. Clearly state the research topic you have chosen in as much detail as possible, either in a statement or as a question.

  • Example: How does sleep deprivation affect learning in college students?

2. Identify the main and unique keywords in your research topic.

  • Hint: first, eliminate all the non-essential (i.e., general) words in your topic.
    • Example: How does sleep deprivation affect learning in college students sleep deprivation learning college students
  • Tip: write your keywords (which may consist of more than one word) in different lines.
    • Example:
      • sleep deprivation
      • learning
      • college students

3. Apply quotation marks (“ ”) and asterisks (*) to your search.

  • Use quotation marks around phrases (keywords consisting of two or more words that must go together) to keep the words together.
    • Example:
      • "sleep deprivation"
      • "college students"
  • Use asterisks to “fill-in-the-blank” at the end of a word (this is called truncation). The asterisk will be replaced by any letter(s) that could possibly end the word. This is an extremely useful tool when you have a unique root that can be combined with many different word endings.
    • Examples:
      • learn* (= learn, learning, learner, learners, etc.)
  • Note: some databases will not let you combine asterisks and quotation marks.
    • "college student*" Be careful: may not work in all databases!

4. Identify any synonyms or related terms and add them to the appropriate row of keywords, using quotation marks and asterisks as applicable. The more synonyms you include, the more results you will obtain, so be as exhaustive as possible to ensure you capture all that is available on your topic. (For simplicity, this example search will include only a few synonyms.)

  • Example:
    • "sleep deprivation," "REM deprivation"
    • learn*
    • "college students," "university students"

Next - Step 3: Connect Your Keywords