Reporting your search in a standard way enables the search to be replicated in the future, to identify any new evidence published since the last search was run. It also demonstrates the quality of the search strategy and allows others to assess this – they will want to have confidence that the search captured the most relevant literature.
What to report
As a minimum, the following should be reported:
The search strategy
- The date on which the search was conducted.
- The names of the databases (including the platform and database coverage dates if known).
- The search strategies (e.g. the full search terms used, with an explanation of any decisions made about these if not self-explanatory).
- Any limits or filters applied to the search (e.g. date, language).
- Names of any other sources searched.
- Details of any supplementary searching.
The search outcome
- How many publications were found in the searches and how many were included in the synthesis.
- The criteria used for selecting or excluding articles (e.g. duplicates, languages, dates, types of study).
Reporting guidelines for evidence syntheses
Reporting standards exist for evidence-based medicine that might be adopted by those conducting formal systematic reviews of meta-analyses in veterinary medicine. For instance, it is best practice to follow the PRISMA guidelines for systematic reviews or meta-analyses in order to ensure that all the information the reader might need has been reported.
PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses)
The PRISMA for systematic reviews and meta-analyses (Moher et al., 2009) consists of a 27 item checklist and a four phase flow diagram that can be used to report a search strategy of meta-analysis.
For reporting a literature search, the most relevant sections of the PRISMA checklist are:
Information sources (item 7): Describe all information sources (such as databases with dates of coverage, contact with study authors to identify additional studies) in the search and date last searched.
Search (item 8): Present full electronic search strategy for at least one database, including any limits used, such that it could be repeated.
The Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions (Higgins and Green, 2011) offers guidance on best practice for human evidence-based medicine which might be adapted for use by the veterinary profession. The Cochrane Handbook recommends reporting the following in the search process in the Methods section:
- List all databases searched.
- Note the dates of the last search for each database AND the periods searched.
- Note any language or publications status restrictions.
- List grey literature sources.
- List individuals or organisations contacted.
- List any journals and conference proceedings specifically hand searched for the reviews.
- List any other sources searched (e.g. reference lists, the Internet).