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Systematic Reviews: Run your search on other databases

Overview of systematic review methodology and key strategies for searching and reporting to the Cochrane Collaboration's Gold Standard

Heading: Run your search on other databases

Run your search on other databases

After you have run your search on MEDLINE, you need to run it on your other databases. Your new search should be the same as your MEDLINE search, only changing as much as necessary to get it to work in the new database.

This page will show you how to remap your master MEDLINE search to other Ovid databases (Embase, Emcare, and PsycINFO), PubMed, The Cochrane Library, Scopus, and Web of Science.

Search syntax

Different databases use different search syntax, operators, and default search fields. When you are remapping your master search to your chosen databases, it is important to consider whether you will need to adapt any aspects of your search strategy such as phrase searches, truncation, wildcards, and adjacency.

The PDF below shows how to translate these elements across a number of key databases:

Remap to Ovid databases: Emcare, Embase and PsycINFO

Select the headings below to learn how to remap your MEDLINE search to other Ovid databases. The process is the same whether you are remapping to Embase, Emcare, or PsycINFO.

Select the headings below to learn how to remap your search in Ovid.

  • Log in to MEDLINE and run your search.
  • Then select Change under the Search Tools box.

Ovid search interface

  • A new window will appear, listing the range of Ovid databases.
  • Select one of the databases to search (eg Embase) and then select Run Search.
  • Ovid will now run your search on this new database, ready for you to check and correct.
  • Your subject heading lines can be identified by the presence of a forward slash / after the term, see below.

    Screenshot of Medline search history with back pain subject line, showing back slash after the term to denote a subject heading
  • You will need to check any MeSH to ensure that they have mapped across correctly. To do this:
    • Look up each term without the forward slash (e.g. enter back pain not back pain/).
    • • You may find that the heading is the same, slightly different, a synonym, or not available as a subject heading in this thesaurus.
    • Check the scope note (i icon on right) to establish that headings cover the same ideas as the original MeSH.

      Ovid search interface
  • Select the subject heading hyperlink to view the subject hierarchy - you may identify additional related or nested terms.

Note: Emcare and Embase share the same subject headings, so if you have run your search on Embase, you can rerun it on Emcare without any changes.

  • Keyword lines will not have a forward slash/ and will end in a field code such as .mp, which is the default code in Ovid.

Screenshot of Medline Search history showing keyword line with .mp shown after keyword terms

  • ​When remapping searches to different Ovid databases, you do not generally need to change your keyword lines.
  • You may, however, choose to change your field codes. E.g. to search across title, abstract and author-supplied fields in MEDLINE you would use .tw,kf. To search those same fields in Embase, you would need to change this to .ti,ab,kw.
  • When you have identified the correct subject headings for this database, you need to edit your search by selecting More > Edit.

    Ovid search history
  • Replace the term with the new subject heading, being sure to add the forward slash after the term (eg Backache/)
  • Run the search 
  • Save your search as a new copy. Include the database name in the title (eg Search: Embase version)
  • If you discover additional relevant subject headings, you can add these to your search. Just be sure to:
    • Revisit your previous databases and check if the term (or a similar subject heading) appears.
    • If so, add it to those searches too, and correct your combination lines.
    • Regardless, update the keyword line to include the new term for all databases.
  • If the subject headings are too broad or are not relevant, remove that subject heading line from your search. Be sure to correct your combination lines.
  • Remember the aim is to cover the same search scope as your master MEDLINE search.

Navigate to Remap to Embase/Emcare Interactive Tutorial 

Note: Embase and Emcare both use the same subject headings (the 'Emtree'), so mapping between these two databases is usually not necessary. However, Emcare subject headings are updated annually (Jan), while Embase subjects headings are updated three times a year. This means the two versions of the Emtree might be slightly inconsistent towards the end of the calendar year. To avoid this, double-check any Emcare subject heading lines that yield 0 results. 

Remap to PubMed

Select the heading below to learn how to remap your search in PubMed. Alternatively, watch the video linked below.

  • You can run each line as an individual search and then combine all your searches, just like in Ovid databases. 
  • Once you have entered a search line, select the dropdown next to 'Search' and choose 'Add to History'.

Screenshot of pubmed search manager.

  • Repeat these steps for each concept. You will need to select the 'Text Word' option each time.
  • Use the truncation symbol (*) to find word variations.
  • Once you have added all your concepts to your search history, combine your searches by selecting the ellipses in your search history and choosing 'Add with AND'.

Screenshot of PubMed search history

  • The search builder at the top of the page will update to match your selections.
  • Once you have added all your concepts, change the 'Add to History' drop down back to 'Search' to view your results.

Video Length: 1:56

Navigate to video: Building your search in PubMed

Note: The PubMed interface has recently been updated. The steps provided in the video above are the same, however for more accurate steps and screenshots, please select the heading above or visit the PubMed Training Centre
  • After running a search you may have too many results.
  • You can reduce these to a more manageable number and remove irrelevant results by using the limits and filters.
  • To view all the options available, select 'Show additional filters' on the left, mark the filters you would like to view, and select 'Show'.
  • Your chosen filters will now display on the left.
  • To apply a filter, tick the check box next to the relevant option.
  • You should not tick 'Full text' as this will limit your results to only those papers will full text in PubMed.
  • To clear all filters and return to your original result set, select 'Reset all filters' at the bottom of the filters panel.

Video Length: 2:13

Navigate to video: Using filters and limits in PubMed

  • You can use the search history function to re-run or edit your previous searches.
  • From under the search box, select 'Advanced'.
  • The search history shows all of the steps you have taken in searching, combining terms, and filtering.
  • At the bottom of the search history you can see the original searches.
  • You can always find your most recent search without any search filters at the top of the search history.
  • The most recent filtered search appears in the second row in the search history.
  • If you wish you recombine or edit searches, select the ellipses and then 'Add query'.
  • This places the search line in the search builder box where you can edit the text.
  • If you need to save a copy of your search history you can screenshot, snip, or print this page.

Video Length: 1:31

Navigate to video: Viewing your search history in PubMed

  • Evaluating the usefulness of your results can be challenging.
  • Start by looking at the title.
  • If the paper looks relevant, select the title to see the full record.
  • Next, read the abstract.
  • To view the full text PDF of the paper, select the full text links on the right hand side.
  • This will open a new tab. From here, select the PDF link to open the PDF.
  • To collate a list of relevant articles, select the check box to the left of relevant titles.
  • When you have marked all the relevant articles, select 'Sent to' from the top of the results list. From here you can choose to email the citation information or export to a reference management software such as EndNote.

Video Length: 1:45

Navigate to video: Evaluating results and finding full text in PubMed

Guidelines and standards

'If a tool was used to automatically translate search strings for one database to another, specify the tool used.' PRISMA 2020 Explanation and Elaboration, p. 7

Other standards

Remap to the Cochrane Library

The Cochrane Library has its own interface so you will need to re-enter your entire search. You will need to search for your subject heading lines and your keywords lines, just like searching in Ovid.

Select the headings below to learn how to remap your search in Cochrane.

In the Cochrane Library, you need to build your search with Search manager:

  • Select the Search manager tab, then go to Advanced Search > Search manager
  • Select the MeSH button and add in your subject headings from MEDLINE. These will be the same terms as both interfaces use MeSH.

    Screenshot of cochrane search manager interface
  • If you used the explode option on any subject headings in Ovid, you will need to do the same in Cochrane.

Screenshot of Cochrane search thesaurus

After adding each subject heading line, you need to add the corresponding keyword line.

  • Go back to the Search manager tab.
  • Start adding in your keyword string in line #2.
  • Add double quotes around all phrases that do not contain a truncation or wildcard symbol (eg "back pain")
  • For those phrases that do contain a truncation or wildcard symbol, add NEXT between the words and brackets around it instead (eg cardio* NEXT disease).

Cochrane search manager combining subject heading lines and keyword lines

  • If a truncated phrase contains an AND/OR/NOT, put this in double quotes (eg mother? NEXT "and" NEXT bab*)
  • When combining your subject heading lines and keyword lines, include the # before the numbers for your combination lines (eg #1 or #2)

Note: If you used proximity/adjacency symbols (ie in MEDLINE adj3 etc), you'll need to change these to near/3 .

Watch the videos below to learn more about using the search manager in the Cochrane Library. 

Video Length: 1:05

Navigate to video: Adding MeSH to your Cochrane Library search

Video Length: 1:03

Navigate to video: Using the search manager in your Cochrane Library search

Navigate to Remap to Cochrane Interactive Tutorial

Remap to Scopus and Web of Science

Scopus and Web of Science have their own interfaces, so you will need to re-enter the entire search. They work similarly, which is why we have included them here together.

Select the heading below to learn how to remap your search in Scopus and Web of Science. Alternatively, watch the video linked below.

  • Neither database has subject headings, so you don't need to enter these lines.
  • Perform a basic search, entering one keyword line at a time.
  • Add double quotes around all phrases (e.g. "back pain*").
  • Repeat this process for all keyword lines in your search.
  • Use the Search History to combine lines together.
  • For Scopus, include the # before the numbers for your combination lines (e.g. #1 or #2).
  • If you used proximity/adjacency symbols (i.e. adj3 in MEDLINE), change these to:
    • near/3 for Web of Science, or
    • W/3 for Scopus

Video Length: 1:32

Navigate to video: Searching Scopus as part of your systematic review

Note: If you have a very long keyword line, you might not be able to fit it all your search terms on one line. Split your keywords over several searches and combine those with OR. Alternatively, try using the advanced search options.