Searching and Writing

What is a systematic search?

This is a guide for students who want to do a systematic search as part of a thesis or project. When you conduct a systematic review, it is necessary to perform an extensive literature search. For you as a student it might not be possible to fulfill all the criteria of a systematic review but you still can use parts of the systematical methodology.

If you are a researcher and want to conduct a systematic review, please see our guide to systematic reviews.

A systematic search

  • is needed to find all available research within a defined research area.
  • follows a strict methodology and must be transparent, replicable and carefully documented.
  • is very resource-intensive in terms of time and skills.
  • is the basis of a systematic review.
  • is needed if you want to do a structured literature study with elements of the methodology for systematic reviews.

The search process for a systematic search is as follows:

  • Choose a subject.
  • Create a search question.
  • Structure your search question by using an acronym, for example PICO.
  • Define inclusion and exclusion criteria.
  • Split the search into blocks.
  • Start looking for terms and search.