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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.


1. Place your search phrase in the corresponding database's "Advanced Search." Each database works a little differently, but in general all will have an "Advanced Search" feature that will include three (or more) search boxes, one below the other. You can copy/paste your entire search phrase into the first search box or copy/paste the different ideas in your search phrase (e.g., each row) into a different box, depending on how you organized your search phrase.

  • Tip #1: FIU LibGuides are available for many of the health sciences databases to which we subscribe. All database guides include detailed instructions on how to use that database's Advanced Search feature. See the box at the right, "Advanced Search in Selected Databases."
  • Tip #2: Many databases will let you combine entire searches. If you think you will continue to modify your search phrase (and you probably will - see below), you can run individual searches for each idea, then combine the searches. This way, if you modify only part of a search, you can reuse the parts you did not modify instead of starting all over.

2. Explore your search results. Are they on the right track? Before moving forward, make sure your search phrase is turning up results that are relevant to you. If it is not, this is the time to modify your search phrase. However, even if the results look good, maybe they could be better. Find any "weak points" in your search phrase, then go to the next step.

3. Open the citations for a few of those articles that look great.  Look at the subjects and keywords for that article - would any of those be useful to you? "Steal" all the keywords and subjects that are relevant and add them to your own search phrase.

4. Repeat the search with your new search phrase. Searching is a feedback loop: (a) run a search, (b) examine the results and modify your search phrase accordingly, (c) go back to (a).

  • Note: Change the search phrases for the other databases as well! You should use the same keywords in all databases, so if you find a good keyword in one database, go ahead and add it to the search phrases for the other databases.
  • Tip: Don't forget to translate any new keywords into subjects.

5. Run the search in the rest of your databases. Continue modifying your search phrases as necessary.

6. Go back and rerun searches in previously used databases for as long as you keep modifying your search phrases.

Next - Step 7: Apply Your Criteria


There is no "magic number" of results to get, but your search phrases will let you know when you are done. There will come a point when all the relevant keywords and subjects you find in your search results are already in your search phrases. At this point, you will not be able to make any more modifications - that is a good indication you have already captured all the relevant terms. This is how you will know you are done!

When you (finally) have your final search phrases: make sure to record them.