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Systematic Reviews in Education and Psychology: An Introductory Guide

This guide will cover the basics of conducting a systematic review in the social sciences, focused especially on education and psychology disciplines.

Systematic Review Search Strategies

For your search methodology, you will want to employ very specific strategies to ensure that you are capturing all of the research central to your topic.  Recommended strategies include:

  • Electronic Database Searching
    • Develop search strategies for relevant research databases, including exploration of each database's subject headings, thesaurus, and other control vocabulary tools.  These search strategies should be documented in your methodology so that they can be easily understood and reproduced by others.
    • Consult with a librarian (either Ellysa Cahoy or another Penn State library subject expert) to ensure that your databases and search strategies are optimal for your topic. 
  • Hand Searching (or Manual Searching) of Key Journals
    • Once you have completed your initial database searches and have begun applying your inclusion / exclusion criteria to your results, pay close attention to the journals coming up frequently for inclusion. This is one way to identify your most relevant journals for your topic. 
    • You will want to "hand search" these journal titles by going to each journal's home page, looking for an "archive" or list of "all issues," and manually going through the table of contents of each issue for each year within your time frame to ensure that you have not missed any relevant articles.
  • Citation Analysis through Bibliographic Analysis and use of Google Scholar
    • Review each article that has fit your inclusion criteria.  Look closely at the studies they cited in their bibliography.  This can lead you to additional older but still relevant articles.
    • Another strategy is to look up each article that has fit your inclusion criteria in Google Scholar.  Look at the 'cited by' link located under the article's Google Scholar entry. Reviewing and searching within the cited-by's for a relevant article is a great way to identify other pertinent works.