DOI: 10.1002/jrsm.1696 ISSN: 1759-2879

A study of search strategy availability statements and sharing practices for systematic reviews: Ask and you might receive

Christine J. Neilson, Zahra Premji
  • Education


The literature search underpins data collection for all systematic reviews (SRs). The SR reporting guideline PRISMA, and its extensions, aim to facilitate research transparency and reproducibility, and ultimately improve the quality of research, by instructing authors to provide specific research materials and data upon publication of the manuscript. Search strategies are one item of data that are explicitly included in PRISMA and the critical appraisal tool AMSTAR2. Yet some authors use search availability statements implying that the search strategies are available upon request instead of providing strategies up front. We sought out reviews with search availability statements, characterized them, and requested the search strategies from authors via email. Over half of the included reviews cited PRISMA but less than a third included any search strategies. After requesting the strategies via email as instructed, we received replies from 46% of authors, and eventually received at least one search strategy from 36% of authors. Requesting search strategies via email has a low chance of success. Ask and you might receive—but you probably will not. SRs that do not make search strategies available are low quality at best according to AMSTAR2; Journal editors can and should enforce the requirement for authors to include their search strategies alongside their SR manuscripts.

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