Evaluation of a new method for librarian-mediated literature searches for systematic reviews

Wichor M. Bramer*, Melissa L. Rethlefsen, Frans Mast, Jos Kleijnen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal(Systematic) Review article peer-review


Objective To evaluate and validate the time of completion and results of a new method of searching for systematic reviews, the exhaustive search method (ESM), using a pragmatic comparison. Methods Single-line search strategies were prepared in a text document. Term completeness was ensured with a novel optimization technique. Macros in MS Word converted the syntaxes between databases and interfaces almost automatically. We compared search characteristics, such as number of search terms and databases, and outcomes, such as number of included and retrieved references and precision, from ESM searches and other Dutch academic hospitals identified by searching PubMed for systematic reviews published between 2014 and 2016. We compared time to perform the ESM with a secondary comparator of recorded search times from published literature and contact with authors to acquire unpublished data. Results We identified 73 published Erasmus MC systematic reviews and 258 published by other Dutch academic hospitals meeting our criteria. We pooled search time data from 204 other systematic reviews. The ESM searches differed by using 2 times more databases, retrieving 44% more references, including 20% more studies in the final systematic review, but the time needed for the search was 8% of that of the control group. Similarities between methods include precision and the number of search terms. Conclusions The evaluated similarities and differences suggest that the ESM is a highly efficient way to locate more references meeting the specified selection criteria in systematic reviews than traditional search methods. Further prospective research is required.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)510-520
Number of pages11
JournalResearch Synthesis Methods
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2018


  • bibliographic databases
  • information storage and retrieval
  • quality improvement
  • review literature as topic
  • TIME

Cite this