4.1 Designing a scope or generic search

Many CISs design, run, check and evaluate scope search strategies (sometimes called generic search strategies), which are very broad and are designed to capture all trial reports within the Group’s scope. If a Group's generic searches need to be designed, evaluated or updated, a good place to start is the Scope and Topic List of a Group which can be used to identify search terms.

An established Group may have existing scope strategies and new ones may not have to be designed, but they will have to be checked periodically to ensure that the search terms used (especially the MeSH terms) are current and relevant. Developing or updating scope search strategies usually requires collaboration between members of the Group (Editors, Co-ordinating Editor, Managing Editor, subject experts and your colleagues) to help identify all the relevant search terms.

Designing a scope or topic search strategy usually involves combining sets of terms to search for:

  • the health condition of interest to your Group i.e. the population
  • the types of study design that you wish to retrieve e.g. RCT, CCT, CBA or ITS

These strategies are generally combinations of database thesaurus terms (e.g. MeSH or Emtree terms) and free text words (e.g. terms found in the title or abstract of a record) and a study design ‘filter’.

Filters are search strategies designed to retrieve reports of a particular study design (e.g. RCT or CCT). The Cochrane Highly Sensitive Search Strategy (HSSS) for identifying randomized trials in MEDLINE has been objectively derived and tested and can be added to the topic component of your search strategy to retrieve RCTs and CCTs in your field.

4.1.1 References

See an example of a MEDLINE scope search using healthcare conditions and a study design filter (Appendix 4)

See an example of a CENTRAL scope search using healthcare conditions (Appendix 5)

For full details on search filters, see the Cochrane Handbook, 4.4.7 Search filters "Search filters"

For information about how to identify randomised trials in MEDLINE, see the Cochrane Handbook, Section "Cochrane Highly Sensitive Search Strategies for identifying randomised trials in MEDLINE".

For suggestions for terms to use to create an RCT filter in Embase, see the Cochrane Handbook, Section "What is in the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) from EMBASE?" These suggestions have not yet been validated.

"Identifying Embase RCTs and CCTs for inclusion in CENTRAL" Please scroll down to "Set 2: Records retrieved by the new search"

The InterTASC Information Specialists' Sub-Group Search Filter Resource is a collaborative venture to identify, assess and test search filters designed to retrieve research by study design or focus. The resource aims to provide easy access to published and unpublished search filters.