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Systematic review guide: Hand Searching

Hand searching

Handsearching involves the page-by-page examination of relevant journal issues, conference proceedings and other publications for relevant studies. In addition, the checking of reference lists of journal articles and other documents retrieved from a search.

Why is handsearching important?

  • Locates relevant items poorly indexed or not indexed at all. Some databases do not comprehensively index all content in journal issues,  or may not index at all supplements, special issues, or conference abstracts
  • Allows researchers to scan content quickly for relevant studies from high-impact journals
  • Ensures that relevant studies are not overlooked. (HLWIKI Canada)

Cochrane Review - Handsearching versus electronic searching to identify reports of randomized trials

Hopewell S, Clarke MJ, Lefebvre C, Scherer RW. Handsearching versus electronic searching to identify reports of randomized trials. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2007, Issue 2. Art. No.: MR000001. DOI:10.1002/14651858.MR000001.pub2

Main results

Handsearching identified between 92% to 100% of the total number of reports of randomized trials found in the various comparisons in this review. Searching MEDLINE retrieved 55%, EMBASE 49% and PsycINFO 67%.

Author’s Conclusion 

Handsearching helps to identify trials:

  • reported as abstracts and letters,
  • not published in English
  • not indexed in databases