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Br J Gen Pract. 2007 December 1; 57(545): 999.
PMCID: PMC2084149

Tips and tricks in performing a systematic review

CHAPTER 3

Reference management and identifying search terms and keywords

Previously1 you have identified a number of articles that you think should be included in your systematic review. Now begins the process of identifying keywords and keeping on top of the logistics of performing a review.

When performing a systematic review you usually have a large number of references which you need to process and organise. To do this it is worth investing in reference management software mainly because they can handle a very large number of references quickly and efficiently without being plugged into the internet.

Currently there are two styles of reference management software, web-based (for example, Refworks), and my preference; offline packages, (for example, Endnote).

Now begins the process of identifying search terms and keywords. Search terms are words which are included in the search strategy, and they appear in the title and abstract of the article. However, the keywords and MeSH are not so easy to spot, sometimes you can see the author selected keywords which index the articles, but typically the MeSH headings are not visible as they are retrospectively applied. To easily see the MeSH of your article you need the help of your reference management software.

After you have familiarised yourself with your software, you need to locate all your previously identified articles on MEDLINE and import them into your reference database. When importing references it is imperative that you import reference information as well as the keywords/MeSH and the abstract.

The next step is to print your references which must include your title, abstract and keywords/MeSH. To print all of these fields you need to edit the output style in your software and add the abstract and keyword fields to the output. All that's left to do is go through each reference and identify each term in the title and abstract which typifies the content of the article, and reflects your research question.

Next chapter: building a PICO search strategy.

REFERENCE

1. Sayers A. Tips and tricks in performing a systematic review. Preliminary evidence gathering: snowballing and reverse snowballing. Br J Gen Pract. 2007;57(542):759. [PubMed]

Articles from The British Journal of General Practice are provided here courtesy of Royal College of General Practitioners