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Searching Multiple Databases for Systematic Reviews

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It’s not enough to use one giant database to search for literature for a systematic review. To yield comprehensive, balanced, and accurate results, researchers must utilize multiple databases, including smaller ones that are more subject-specific.

To effectively locate relevant studies for inclusion, multiple databases should be utilized with adequate search approaches including search fields, use of phrases, search limits, customized search syntax for different databases, and controlled vocabulary.

How Many Databases Should I Search For A Systematic Review?

You must search at least three databases for a systematic review, preferably including one giant database and two subject-focused ones. This methodology applies to all types of systematic reviews.

Why Do I Have To Search Multiple Databases?

There are many reasons why it’s essential to search multiple databases for a systematic review.

Maximizes Relevant Data

By searching multiple databases, you can maximize available data and consider all relevant literature. This will give you better insights for your study and help you get a more comprehensive understanding of the topic.

Reduces Risk Of Bias

Limiting your literature to a single database puts your study at risk of publication bias while restricting your study from assessing literature that could possibly change its outcome if included.

Yields More Accurate Results

With more data, you’re able to produce more accurate findings that can better guide those who’ll reference your systematic review in the future.

Databases For Systematic Reviews

While searching what database is used to find systematic reviews, you may discover that there are several sources you can use. Becoming familiar with each of these can greatly help you pragmatically carry out your search strategy. You can even use this information for other literature review-adjacent purposes, such as when you need to include a systematic review in a scoping review.

Here are the most common databases to consider.

Health Sciences Databases

  • Biosis Citation Index – life and biomedical sciences
  • ChiroACCESS – alternative medicine
  • CINAHL Complete – nursing and allied health
  • Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) – randomized and quasi-randomized controlled trials
  • Embase – biomedicine and pharmaceuticals
  • Joanne Briggs Institute EBP Database – evidence-based research
  • PubMed – medical and related fields

Education Databases

  • Education Research Complete – education and educational specialties
  • ERIC – education research and information
  • Web of Science – sciences, arts, and humanities

Social Studies Databases

  • Criminal Justice Abstracts – criminal justice
  • EconLit – economics
  • ProQuest – business, management, and economics
  • PsycINFO – psychology
  • Scopus – humanities, and sciences
  • Sociological Abstracts – sociology and behavioral sciences

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Tips For Searching Multiple Databases

Searching multiple databases is a taxing process that’s done over a long period of time. The process gets easier with a solid search strategy and multiple team members. But there are other steps you can take to make the process even more efficient. Here are some tips on how to do it.

Ask A Librarian

Librarians (or other information experts) are your biggest asset when undergoing a literature review. They can direct you to the relevant databases and help you look for the specific studies you need to complete your review. They can also help you flesh out a search strategy to guide you throughout this step.

Consult Subject-Specific Databases

It’s tempting to stick to a major database because they provide a mass of literature that can seem to be enough to craft a comprehensive review. However, by doing this, you rob yourself of being able to assess studies that are tailored to specific topics—which might not be in the major databases. While you should consult the bigger sources, make sure to also include smaller subject-specific databases when doing your literature search.

Use A Literature Review Software

A great way to speed up the literature review without compromising quality is to use a literature review software like DistillerSR. This can help you better scour multiple databases, even cross-checking for duplicates while at it.


For a systematic review to be valid, it must consider studies from multiple databases. Researchers must search at least three databases, applying their search strategy and eligibility criteria to choose, assess and synthesize relevant literature to yield an answer. This is a tedious task, but with the help of literature review software such as DistillerSR, it can be easier, faster, and even more accurate.

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