Documenting searches

Except that it is useful for yourself to document your searches during the review process, it is important to include such documentation in the final publication. The methodology and results of searching is critical to every review of the systematic kind. It is crucial that the search process and method is described as transparently as possible for the search to be reproducible.


PRISMA-S (2020) is a standard describing what search documentation in the case of a systematic review should include. Even if you do not conduct a strictly systematic review, a checklist may be helpful to structure searches and ensure you have not disregarded anything in your searches.

One way of providing an overall idea of the search process is using a flow chart. The requirements for reporting searches often follow the PRISMA statement. This flow chart is a well-known standard for how to visualize the difference between search results and the final selection of studies based on inclusion and exclusion criteria.

One way to  get an overview of the search process is to use a flow chart. PRISMA flow diagram is an established standard for how such a chart can be designed. The chart clarifies the difference between the search result and the final selection based on inclusion and exclusion criteria. 



How to document searches

What kind of information should be included in the search documentation?

It is important that the search documentation includes: 

  • search terms used and how they have been combined.
  • databases used and date of search
  • database provider
  • limitations used, such as time span and publication types
  • complementary search methods used, such as citation analysis or search by reference lists
  • inclusion and exclusion criteria set up for the final selection of documents
  • search results and the final selection 
  • possible sources of error and bias due to limitations in the databases


Search support for researchers

LiU researchers and PhD students can consult a librarian, for example when doing a literature review for a dissertation or a systematic review. Together we will look at your specific research questions and discuss topics such as:

  • selecting databases and search tools
  • selecting keywords
  • constructing search strings
  • documenting searches
  • managing search results

Make an appointment by completing this form:

Search support for researchers