Systematic Reviews for the Social Sciences: The Search

Hand Searching

Hand searching refers to reading through specific journal table of contents and selecting articles relevant to the research topic. This is an additional search strategy that can be incorporated in order to capture literature that may have been missed by searching a journal article database.

By working with a librarian, the research team can select journals and time periods that are relevant to their research topic.

The Search

During an intial consultation with a librarian, the research team will:

  • Decide whether to search Medline through PubMed or Ovid
  • Select which journal article databases are relevant to their research topic
  • Identify types of grey literature that are relevant to their topic
  • Decide if hand searching will improve their search strategy and what sources are appropriate for this method

After this initial consultation, the typical process for completing the search for a systematic review is as follows:

Note that the search should be repeated before the final analysis in order to capture literature that was published since the intial search. This helps to create an up-to-date systematic review that includes the most recent literature available.

Grey Literature

The term grey literature refers to all information that isn't commercially published. This can include the following types of documents:

  • Conference proceedings, abstracts, papers, posters, presentations, etc.
  • Clinical trials
  • Theses and dissertations
  • Regulatory documentation
  • Government reports
  • Grant proposals and applications
  • Social media posts
  • Etc.

Including grey literature in a systematic review can strengthen the overall product by minimizing publication bias. Although grey literature is rarely peer reviewed, all sources of information should undergo assessment before being included in the final analysis.

By working with a librarian, the research team can identify types of grey literature that are relevant to their research question, organizations with an invested interest in the research question, and resources that can be used to locate grey literature.