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Systematic Reviews for Health: Bibliographic Databases

A guide on how a Research Librarian can help you during a systematic review process

Bibliographic Databases

It is important to search two to five databases individually. Only searching one database or using the Library's MegaSearch is not acceptable. Which databases and how many you choose to search depends on the topic of the systematic review.

The searches in the bibliographic databases need to be comprehensive (see Building Search Strategies) and reproducible (see Documenting Search Strategies).

Which Databases Should I Search?

The Cochrane Collaboration considers these bibliographic databases as the most important sources for reports of trials (Cochrane Handbook, 4.3.1.1):

  • Medline (via PubMed or Ovid)
  • Embase
  • CENTRAL (The Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials)

National, regional and subject-specific databases should be selected for searching according to the topic of the review (Cochrane Handbook, 4.3.1.4). Other subject-specific and citation databases include:

  • Web of Science
  • Scopus
  • PsycINFO
  • CINAHL

TIP! Register with each database so you can: save your search history, create alerts, re-run a search, print a record of your search


A new study suggests that for biomedical systematic reviews these four databases should be searched (listed in order of importance):

  • Embase,
  • Medline (via Ovid),
  • Web of Science, and
  • Google Scholar (the first 200 relevant references).

Other databases such as CINAHL or PsychINFO should be added if the focus of the review is on nursing/allied health or psychology, respectively. 

Bramer, WM, Rethlefsen, ML, Kleijnen, J & Franco, OH 2017, 'Optimal database combinations for literature searches in systematic reviews: A prospective exploratory study', Systematic Reviews, vol. 6, no. 1, p. 245.

Additional Resources

Need More Help?
Book a consultation with a Learning and Research Librarian or contact Librarians@utas.edu.au.