A systematic review must be thorough, transparent, accountable and reproducible. Searches are often conducted using academic bibliographic databases, but additional sources, such as websites, can be an important source of pertinent literature. In a recent article, Stansfield, Dickson and Bangpan have identified the challenges of using information from online searching, whilst maintaining the principles of a systematic review. The key challenges include:
- Deciding which resources to use
- Performing a suitable search; sources will not be structured similarly and individual search approaches may be needed for different websites
- Screening the potentially large amount of output information
- Deciding which information to collect from each resource
- Obtaining results in a usable format
- Maintaining transparency and reproducibility regarding the decisions made
The authors propose a process for systematic website searching that addresses these issues. The approach taken in performing the search and meticulous record keeping are the critical components for a successful online systematic search. New advances in technology, such as automatic searching and logging tools with document retrieval, may aid the process. However, the output of such tools will need to be carefully compared with that obtained through manual searches before they can be accepted as an appropriate search method.