Using search narratives to explain literature search strategies: a worked example

Tags: Oral
Cooper C1, Dawson S2, Varley-Campbell J3, Cockcroft E4, Peters J5, Hendon J1, Churchill R1
1Cochrane Common Mental Disorders Group, Centre for Reviews and Dissemination, University of York, 2University of Bristol, 3Centre of Outcomes Research and Effectiveness, University College London, 4Patient and Public involvement team, PenCLAHRC, University of Exeter, 5Exeter Test Group, University of Exeter


Uptake of peer review of literature search strategies remains low in systematic reviews. The reason for this is not clear, since there is accessible guidance to facilitate peer review. Moreover, there is an argument that people with lived experience are not sufficiently engaged in the development and review of the literature search process. We question whether the technical nature and presentation of literature search strategies are the barriers to both points.

Craven and Levay have recommended the use of 'search narratives', suggesting that presenting a search strategy explains how studies were identified and that a search narrative could explain why. We explore the idea of a search narrative and question whether reporting the decision-making process and technical detail behind a literature search strategy has the capacity to increase engagement with the literature search.


To write a search narrative that illustrates the decision-making process behind writing a literature search strategy and increases the accessibility of the search syntax.


Following the guidance from Craven and Levay, and a review of relevant studies, we developed a 'search narrative' to explain the MEDLINE search to identify model-based economic evaluations of pharmacogenetic and pharmacogenomic tests.


We will present the findings of our literature review and the search narrative we created. The search narrative has two domains: 1) a conceptual narrative to explain the purpose of the literature search, and 2) a structural narrative to explain the decision-making process in developing the literature search strategy.


We conclude that a search narrative explains the context of the literature search and it breaks down the technical details of the literature search strategy.

We question whether the use of search narratives could improve the engagement of people with lived experience in the process of literature searching, particularly when identifying and selecting search terms at the start of a review. We also question whether the use of a search narrative will improve the uptake of peer review by making a clear statement on how the literature search strategy was developed.

Patient or healthcare consumer involvement:

We worked with the PenCLAHRC PPI team to develop this idea.