MAHSLIN Professional Development Award – Designing Search Strategies for Systematic Reviews

The support from the MAHSLIN Professional Development Award Fund enabled me to attend an exceptional class earlier this month. Designing Search Strategies for Systematic Reviews is in its second year offering by the Becker Medical Library at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. It’s a two day course offered in person. The course is intended for librarians to be better prepared to develop complex search strategies for systematic reviews.

I’ve also attended the University of Pittsburgh’s Falk Library of the Health Sciences Systematic Review Workshop. I took that class prior to having contributed to any Systematic Reviews and didn’t really know what I didn’t know. It was a really great class that provided a solid foundation for the two Systematic Reviews I worked on afterward. Unfortunately, I had no confidence in the work that I did on those reviews. I still wondered, “Did I create effective searches, I must have done something wrong, how do I know if the searches were actually good or not?”

Those lingering thoughts led me to register for the Search Strategies for Systematic Reviews course. The course was $400 and I had to travel to St. Louis, which could be a barrier for some. With this Professional Development Award and partial funding through my employer, I was able to make it. Thankfully, I did! The first reason I’m so glad I went, is that it definitely made me feel more confident about my work on the Systematic Reviews I supported and much more confident in starting a new one. Secondly, after having worked on those, I knew what I needed to know and where I felt weak. I knew what questions to ask this time around.

This course had a structured agenda that worked through the following topics on the first day: 1. SR Guidelines, 2. Patron Contact & PICO plan, 3. Search Design, Bias, and 4. Recall, Term Harvesting. The second day covered: 5. Designing Concept Hedges, 6. Combining Concept Hedges, 7. Support Software Overview, 8. Grey Literature Resources, 9. Writing the Methods Section, 10. Sending Results, and 11. Final Steps.

We worked through all of theses steps of a Systematic review from beginning to end with a Case Study that was provided to each of the three groups we had been divided into ahead of time. The instructor would perform an example of their own case study and then instruct us to perform those activities with our group’s case study. Each of the three groups had one component of the PICO question, P, I, or C (the study was looking for an outcome) as our concept we worked on. Toward the end of the class we shared our results (combining concept hedges) and worked on the Methods Section and Final Steps with all of the pieces put together. This hands-on method was extremely effective and we were even provided with the tools to take back (i.e., an excel spreadsheet to organize term harvesting, checklists for the methods section) with us for when we need them. The instructors stayed on target with the schedule and with discussions and questions. This organization was another plus of the class.

I highly recommend this course to anyone interested in taking a Systematic Review class and am extremely grateful that MAHSLIN provided me with the funds to make it possible.

Stephanie Friree Ford, MLIS
Reference Librarian

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2 Responses to “MAHSLIN Professional Development Award – Designing Search Strategies for Systematic Reviews”


  1. 1 David Laclair October 1, 2018 at 10:04 pm

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  2. 2 Dennise Ellingsworth October 25, 2018 at 7:57 am

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