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  • Literature search

Literature search

An explicit and systematically conducted literature search is a pre-condition for transparency and precision of the findings of the QES.

An explicit and systematically conducted literature search is a pre-condition for transparency and precision of the findings of the QES.

About this phase

What happens before this step 

The question to be answered and the methods for answering the question are decided. The protocol or project plan is completed and approved. There are clear inclusion and exclusion criteria. 


Find appropriate search words and build a search strategy for the selected databases. Eventually adjust search strategy after evaluation and a trial search. Conduct the search. Document the search and handle the identified references.  

Why is this step important? 

An explicit and systematically conducted literature search is a pre-condition for transparency and precision of the findings of the QES. However, unlike other systematic reviews it is not required to find all relevant literature.  


A librarian in partnership with the project leader. A second librarian to peer review the search. 


Search in relevant databases with an explicit search strategy and discuss the option of a neural network search in OpenAlex (2). OpenAlex is an opensource dataset of more than 250 000 000 interconnected scientific entities, including journal publications. OpenAlex’s data sources include its predecessor Microsoft Academic Graph, CrossRef, ORCID, Pubmed, CENTRAL, Unpaywall, the ISSN International Centre, preprint servers, and numerous other subject-area and institutional repositories. Crucially, OpenAlex also uses daily web-crawling to harvest new entities. As a knowledge graph, OpenAlex uses deep learning to link these entities according to concept, in addition to bibliometric and citation similarities. Rather than searching according to a word present in a study’s title or abstract, MeSH terms, or keywords provided by the author, journal, or database, OpenAlex connects studies according to semantic and disambiguated concept. Such a search results in far fewer retrieved irrelevant studies. We will “search” in OpenAlex by inputting included or relevant studies identified through the previous two traditional databases, and requesting unique, relevant studies. OpenAlex is accessible through the EPPI-Reviewer platform (2). 


EPPI reviewer if there will be a neural network search using OpenAlex 


Save identified references in an endnote file or another reference program. Report the literature search.

Relevant resources:  

Cochrane webinar “Question formulation and searching for qualitative evidence”  

Harris JL, Booth A, Cargo M, Hannes K, Harden A, Flemming K, Garside R, Pantoja T, Thomas J, Noyes J, Cochrane Qualitative and Implementation Methods Group Guidance series - paper 6: Methods for question formulation, searching and protocol development for qualitative evidence synthesis, Journal of Clinical Epidemiology (2018), doi: 10.1016/j.jclinepi.2017.10.023. 

Booth A. Searching for qualitative research for inclusion in systematic reviews: a structured methodological review. Syst Rev. 2016 May 4;5:74. doi: 10.1186/s13643-016-0249-x. 

Undertaking a qualitative evidence synthesis to support decision-making in a Cochrane context 

  • Part 1: Qualitative research and how it fits into systematic reviews  
  • Part 2: How to choose a method for qualitative evidence synthesis 
  • Part 3: Framework synthesis, thematic synthesis, meta-ethnography 
  • Part 4: Confidence in qualitative evidence and reporting a qualitative evidence synthesis 


2. OpenAlex. OpenAlex documentation 2022 [Available from: https://docs.openalex.org/.