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Systematic Reviews: Subject databases

A guide to assist staff and students undertaking systematic reviews

Subject databases

Ensure you search a wide range of subject specific databases in order to capture the full extent of published journal literature on your topic. Databases all index a different set of journals, and while you can expect some overlap you will also find unique content in each database. 

Most subject areas will have specific core databases that the majority of systematic reviews will use, and then additional subject-specific databases depending on the topic.  

If you're unsure about the key databases to search for your review:

  • check the databases listed on the relevant subject guide
  • consult the librarian for your subject area
  • check other systematic reviews

Key medical and health databases

Citation databases

Citation searching is an important addition to database searching and handsearching. It can help you tract a particular study over a period of time - allowing you to follow the the study both forward and backward in time, to see if they are relevant to your review.

To do this, search for a key article, then use the database's functionality to link to citations and references for that article.

Citations and references of key articles are an important supplementary source of published literature and will often help you to discover additional studies that have not appeared in the search results of your database searches.

Citation databases:

Australian Databases

Additional Databases

Database Searching Tips

1. Identify main concepts and keywords. Search the main concepts first, then limit further as necessary.

2. Find Synonyms (Boolean OR broadens the search to include alternative keywords or subject thesaurus terms):

  • pediatrics OR children
  • teenagers OR adolescents

3. AND (Boolean AND joins concepts and narrows the search)  :

  • occupational therapy AND children
  • stress AND (occupation OR job)

4. Be aware of differences in American and English spelling and terminology. Most databases use American spelling and terminology as preferred subject terms.

5. Use Truncation (putting * at the end of a word stem will search all forms of the word):

  • disab* (disability, disabilities, disabled)
  • child* (child, children, childhood, children's)
  • manag* (managment, manager, managers) 

6. "...." (inverted commas) use for a phrase

  • "mental health"
  • "occupational therapy"

7. Wildcard ? will search for any single letter in the space. e.g. wom?n will search women, woman, organi?ation will search organisation, organization.

8. Wildcard * can also be used where alternate spelling may contain an extra character. e.g. p*ediatric, will search paediatric or pediatric, behavio*r, will search behaviour or behavior.