What is a Systematic Review?

Systematic reviews, are publications that identify, appraise, and synthesize all relevant studies on a particular topic, to arrive at evidence. They involve a detailed and comprehensive search strategy to make sure one does not miss any study on the topic and thus reduce bias. Every step in authoring such a publication has to be – as the name says – “Systematic”

The Search Strategy for a Systematic Review – why is it so important?

When you search a database to identify publications, you need to search using both “thesaurus terms” and “free text terms”. A great example of Thesaurus terms is the “MeSH” or “Medical Subject Headings” used in PubMed and some more databases. The advantage of searching using MeSH is that you can be sure that every result you get is about your search term.

In PubMed if your search term is “Peptic Ulcer”, then you will search PubMed by typing – Peptic ulcer[Mesh] in the search box, then even if you get a result where the title is “Thinking outside the box: not as easy as you might think.” – you can be sure that the article is about Peptic Ulcer. This is because indexers add MeSH terms to records about a condition or a drug

On the other hand, not all records in databases have Mesh (or any other thesaurus term) added by indexers. In databases like PubMed, not all records get Mesh terms. So you need to search for all synonyms of your search term, in order to make sure you find all results about it.

And why is it important to find every possible study? Imagine if there are 10 studies that you need to analyze to find evidence about the efficacy of one drug compared to another. What happens if you find only eight of them? Then you are missing data from the other two, and your evidence is incomplete!

So we need to make sure that our search strategy is as complete as possible in order to arrive at the best available evidence.

And then it is important that the search strategy is very clear for anyone who is peer-reviewing it, and also if in future someone has to replicate it.

What is a Scoping Review?

Scoping Reviews are a bit different, but there are things that are common. The purpose of a Scoping Review is mainly to identify knowledge gaps in a topic. Such reviews scope a body of literature by identifying all possible studies, clarify concepts and see what or how much more research is needed on the topic. In addition to identifying gaps, scoping reviews may also help by being a precursor to a systematic review on a topic, and can be used to confirm the relevance of inclusion criteria and potential questions.

We would like to stress that the Search Strategy for a Scoping Review has to be as comprehensive as one for a Systematic Review

The Role of an Information Professional in Systematic and Scoping Reviews

An Information Specialist – often a specially trained Librarian has a crucial role in a Systematic and Scoping Review. The Information Specialist does the following:

  1. Identifies the databases that need to be searched
  2. Constructs search strategies
  3. Removes duplicate records
  4. Exports results in required formats so that authors can import the final results into a Systematic Review software (like Covidence, Rayyan or Revman – to name some)
  5. Documents all these steps for the “Methods Section” of the Review
  6. Notes the number of results, duplicates and the final result numbers, in order add them to the PRISMA flow chart
  7. For every database searched, exports the search strategies to record them in the Appendix section of the Review
  8. Re-runs the strategies before publication of the review, to see if any new study needs to be included
  9. Re-runs the strategies whenever the review is updated – usually once in about three years. This is a must for Cochrane Systematic Reviews
What is a QMed’s role in such Reviews?

QMed has information specialists who train systematic review authors to develop search strategies, remove duplicates, export records and document the methods and numbers for the PRISMA chart. Our mission is to train a large number of health professionals in India, for this activity.

If authors do not have the time to learn from us and would like us to do the searching and documenting, we offer to do it for them.

We offer the above to authors in India, as part of our mission. We ourselves are continuously learning more about different databases and other nuances of literature searching for authoring systematic/scoping reviews and wish to share our expertise across India.

Databases that we search / recommend to search

In India, only some authors have access to databases that need a subscription. And yet, we need to be as inclusive as we can. We encourage authors to search as many of the following databases as is possible:

  1. PubMed
  2. The Cochrane Library (note – this is free to search, but to export the results from CENTRAL, one needs a subscription. Otherwise we need to copy/paste the results and identify the abstracts/texts through alternative methods)
  3. Global Index Medicus
  4. Virtual Health Library
  5. ClinicalTrials.gov
  6. WHO – ICTRP
  7. PubMed Central (especially if you get few results from the others, as in this, you could search the full text of articles)
  8. LENS.ORG

If one or more authors of a Systematic Review has access to subscription databases like EMBASE, Web of Science etc, – we encourage them to search those. Do note that copyright restrictions apply and you are not required to search databases that you do not have access to, through your institution. QMed attempts to help / guide with search strategies for such databases, but the author who has access will need to carry out the actual search

QMed’s expectation from authors

We hope you have read the above and understood the depth of work involved in search strategies for a systematic review! What do we need from you?

If you plan to learn from us and carry out search strategies:

  • You need to give a strong time commitment
  • Have a budget to pay QMed for the teaching, guidance, and reviewing
  • Acknowledge QMed in your review, for the guidance

If you ask us carry out search strategies:

  • Plan a budget to pay QMed for the work involved
  • Commit time for discussions while planning the strategies
  • Acknowledge QMed in your review, for the guidance / search strategies

Please note: In the developed nations where Information Specialist offer these services they not only charge for their work, but they are included as authors – as they take responsibility for answering any questions regarding the search strategies.
QMed asks authors for a donation for the services we offer. For authors who do not have any funding, we ask for a nominal donation. For authors who do get funding grants, we ask for a higher donation. If authors cannot give a donation, but need an invoice to utilize our services as part of their funding grant, we offer that option as well.
So we definitely ask for an acknowledgement for our guidance/work and where we carry out the search strategies, – we ask for authorship (for whichever individual in QMed carried out the job).

Budgeting for literature search guidance/help

If you wish to learn, and build your capacity to carry out search strategies:

  • You would have already donated or should donate Rs 800/- for three months access to our courses, or Rs 2500/- for a one year access to all courses at www.qmedcourses.in
    If you have not, please visit https://www.qmed.ngo/courses-individuals/ , read the contents carefully and do what is required
    To donate, please visit www.qmed.ngo/give
  • Beyond that, please budget for additional donations of Rs 500/- per hour if required. Initially you might have to do this, but as you learn, you will be spending less

If you do not have funding / grants and want QMed to carry out the work:

  • We request for a donation of Rs 10,000/- to QMed for us to carry out a set of specific activities
    To donate, please visit www.qmed.ngo/give
  • Beyond that, please budget for additional donations of Rs 500/- per hour if required (More details in the next section)

If you DO have funding / grants and want QMed to carry out the work:

  • We request for a donation of Rs 30,000/- to QMed for us to carry out a set of specific activities.
    To donate, please visit www.qmed.ngo/give
  • If your grant conditions are that you need an invoice for the same, then please let us know. We will give you a GST invoice and you could pay Rs. 30,000 + 18% GST (GST is levied as applicable)
  • Beyond that, please budget for additional donations of Rs 2500/- per hour if required. Again – we could give a GST invoice if you need the same. (More details in the next section)

Note: We may have to revise the amounts we ask for, at any time. As we work with different authors we are experiencing cases where we have much higher work loads than we anticipated. We request understanding and helping us with the right payments / donations – and definitely so, if you do have a grant for your review. 

The Next Steps:

If you wish to learn, and build your capacity to carry out search strategies:

  • Please do the course – “Advanced PubMed Searching for Authors of Systematic Reviews” (In this course, we have included whatever is needed from the Mastering PubMed course, for your needs. You could do the Mastering PubMed course fully later on too)
  • After you do the course – create your PubMed search strategy and send it to support@qmed.ngo
  • Ask us for an appointment to discuss the same, and to ensure that it is correct
  • Next you will need to apply what you learnt and search the other databases listed above (What databases can we search)
  • Next you will need to do the Mendeley or the Zotero course – and learn how to import your search results and remove duplicates
  • Once you have removed all duplicates, you are ready to export your results and start the process of elimination of irrelevant records and then the inclusion of the most relevant ones for data extraction
  • We offer two free half hour sessions to explain all the above. Beyond this, we will ask for a donation of Rs 500/- for every half hour session

If you do not have funding / grants and want QMed to carry out the work:

Once you donate Rs 10,000/ – we will do the following:

  • Search as many of the free databases listed above after discussing it with you
  • Document and date the search strategies of each
  • Remove duplicates and give you the final export file for further actions
  • Give you the text for the Methods Section of your review
  • Give you the search strategies to add to your review (usually in an Appendix section)
  • Give you the numbers you need to document in the PRISMA section

We might ask for discussion time during the above processes, so please be ready for the same. After carrying out the free database searches, in case you have access to other paid resources, you will need to translate the strategies and carry them out – or share your access to these with us to carry out the searches. (This is totally up to you to decide). As mentioned earlier, all this will require additional donations of Rs 2500/- per hour

If you DO have funding / grants and want QMed to carry out the work:

Once you donate Rs 30,000/ – (or pay Rs 30,000/- plus GST) we will do the following:

  • Search as many of the free databases listed above after discussing it with you
  • Document and date the search strategies of each
  • Remove duplicates and give you the final export file for further actions
  • Give you the text for the Methods Section of your review
  • Give you the search strategies to add to your review (usually in an Appendix section)
  • Give you the numbers you need to document in the PRISMA section

We might ask for discussion time during the above processes, so please be ready for the same. After carrying out the free database searches, in case you have access to other paid resources, you will need to translate the strategies and carry them out – or share your access to these with us to carry out the searches. (This is totally up to you to decide). As mentioned earlier, all this will require additional donations (or charges if applicable) of Rs 2500/- per hour

Please fill in this form and share details about your review

We have shared as many details as we can for now, about our Systematic Reviews expertise sharing. Whenever you are ready to learn more / take help for a review, please fill in this form

Do note – that as we evolve and experience guiding / performing systematic or scoping review searches, we might have to modify our donation requests/charges and more. Please watch this page for details

Additional note: All pricing details on this page apply to authors from Academic institutions or Research institutions. Pharma companies or other corporate companies – please write to us at to info@qmed.ngo, for pricing details

Page last checked / updated: 18-June-2024