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Systematic reviews and Meta-analysis in Business/Management

This guide is available for researchers and students undertaking systematic reviews or meta-analysis on Management or Business-related topics. It highlights best practices to improve reproducibility.

Data collection - Locating all relevant studies

The process of locating all relevant studies entails:

1. Determining which databases to search

2. Determining which grey literature sources and supplementary techniques you will use to identify additional studies

3. Designing and conducting comprehensive searches in all databases

4. Gathering all the references and removing duplicates

5. Carrying out the search for grey literature and supplementary searching techniques

6. Tracking everything you do in detail so it can be reported in the manuscript

The role of the librarian

Designing the data collection plan for an evidence synthesis project requires knowledge of the content coverage within databases, how the various information systems (databases) are structured and how to leverage the functionality of each database to create sensitive searches.

Librarians trained in evidence syntheses methods can provide guidance with:

  • Which databases to search
  • What supplementary sources and strategies to use based on the topic
  • Designing comprehensive systematic searches in multiple databases
  • Data management practices and tools
  • Methodological requirements for other steps of an evidence synthesis project

The role of the librarian has been recognized and is specifically mentioned in some methodological guidance documents (Cochrane, Campbell Collaboration, etc).

Librarians may be involved in one of two ways:

1) as review team members (co-authors) 

2) in a consulting role on the project

  • Rethlefsen, M. L., Farrell, A. M., Trzasko, L. C. O., & Brigham, T. J. (2015). Librarian co-authors correlated with higher quality reported search strategies in general internal medicine systematic reviews. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology68(6), 617-626. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclinepi.2014.11.025
  • Meert, D., Torabi, N., & Costella, J. (2016). Impact of librarians on reporting of the literature searching component of pediatric systematic reviews. Journal of the Medical Library Association: JMLA,104(4), 267.https://dx.doi.org/10.3163%2F1536-5050.104.4.004
  • Koffel, J. B. (2015). Use of recommended search strategies in systematic reviews and the impact of librarian involvement: a cross-sectional survey of recent authors. PloS one,10(5).doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0125931
  • Li, L., Tian, J., Tian, H., Moher, D., Liang, F., Jiang, T., ... & Yang, K. (2014). Network meta-analyses could be improved by searching more sources and by involving a librarian. Journal of clinical epidemiology67(9), 1001-1007. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclinepi.2014.04.003

Selecting databases to search

An attempt to locate all relevant studies must be made. Searching one or even 2 databases is not enough.

The choice and number of databases depends on the topic and the number of disciplines that the topic is linked to.

Interdisciplinary topics will require searching a greater number of databases. 


Business/Management disciplinary databases

ABI/Inform Collection - (ProQuest) One of the core business databases. Contains scholarly and trade articles, dissertations and SSRN working papers on Business, Management and Trade.

Business Source Complete - (EBSCO) One of the core business databases with extensive coverage. Coverage goes back to 1886, and contains abstracts for more than 1200 journals.

EconLit - (EBSCO) The electronic database of the American Economic Association. It contains journal articles, books, collective volume articles, dissertations, working papers on topics such as capital markets, country studies, econometrics, economic forecasting, environmental economics, government regulations, labor economics, monetary theory, urban economics, and much more.

PsycINFO - (Ovid) This database covers scholarly literature such as journal articles, books, chapters and dissertations in the areas of psychological, social, behavioral, and health sciences. They include content relevant to the fields of psychiatry, management, business, education, social science, neuroscience, law, medicine, and social work

PAIS Index - (ProQuest) This database covers the areas of public affairs, public and social policies, international relations and contains journal articles, books, government documents, statistics, grey literature, research reports, conference papers and more. Business topic coverage have an emphasis on economic factors, industry surveys, business-societal interactions, etc.


Multidisciplinary general databases

Web of Science Core Collection - This collection of databases includes: Science Citation Index Expanded, Social Sciences Citation Index, Arts & Humanities Citation Index, Conference Proceedings Citation Index- Science, Conference Proceedings Citation Index- Social Science & Humanities, and Emerging Sources Citation Index.

Scopus - (Elsevier) This large database includes peer-reviewed journals, monographs, conference papers and more in the broad disciplinary areas of social sciences, arts & humanities, cience, technology & medicine (STM).

Note: Depending on your review question, you may need to consider the core disciplinary databases of other disciplines such as Medicine, Engineering, Computer Science, Sociology, etc.

  • Gusenbauer, M., & Haddaway, N. R. (2019). Which Academic Search Systems are Suitable for Systematic Reviews or Meta‐Analyses? Evaluating Retrieval Qualities of Google Scholar, PubMed and 26 other Resources. Research Synthesis Methodshttps://doi.org/10.1002/jrsm.1378
  • Bramer, W. M., Rethlefsen, M. L., Kleijnen, J., & Franco, O. H. (2017). Optimal database combinations for literature searches in systematic reviews: a prospective exploratory study. Systematic reviews, 6(1), 245. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13643-017-0644-y
  • Harari, M. B., Parola, H. R., Hartwell, C. J., & Riegelman, A. (2020). Literature searches in systematic reviews and meta-analyses: A review, evaluation, and recommendations. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 118, 103377. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jvb.2020.103377
  • Boeker, M., Vach, W., & Motschall, E. (2013). Google Scholar as replacement for systematic literature searches: good relative recall and precision are not enough. BMC medical research methodology13(1), 131. https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2288-13-131

Supplementary techniques & Grey Literature

Supplementary search techniques and grey literature searching usually happens after the list of included studies has been determined (the end of Step 3), however the plan for these needs to be made earlier during development of the review protocol.


Supplementary searching

Sometimes studies are missed by the database searches, but can be found in other ways. Supplementary strategies and searches can be used to locate additional/missing studies. These include:

  • Looking through reference lists of included studies (backward searching)
  • Looking at the "cited by" lists of the included studies (forward searching)
  • Looking through the reference lists of previously published systematic or narrative reviews, and meta-analyses.
  • Searching Google Scholar

Grey Literature

In addition to scholarly articles, you may also want to include grey literature. The choice of grey literature types depends on the topic and the eligibility criteria specified earlier. Grey literature sources include:

  • Conference proceedings and abstracts (from recent years to identify works that may be in process)
  • Theses and dissertations
  • Working papers
  • Governmental and non-governmental organization reports
  • Trade and Industry publications
  • Contacting researchers

Remember: No matter what supplementary strategies and grey literature sources one chooses, they should be recorded and reported in detail to maintain transparency and reproducibility.

  • Papaioannou, D., Sutton, A., Carroll, C., Booth, A., & Wong, R. (2010). Literature searching for social science systematic reviews: consideration of a range of search techniques. Health Information & Libraries Journal, 27(2), 114-122. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1471-1842.2009.00863.x
  • Hopewell, S., McDonald, S., Clarke, M. J., & Egger, M. (2007). Grey literature in meta‐analyses of randomized trials of health care interventions. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (2). https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.MR000010.pub3
  • Horsley, T., Dingwall, O., & Sampson, M. (2011). Checking reference lists to find additional studies for systematic reviews. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, (8). https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.MR000026.pub2
  • Cooper, C., Booth, A., Britten, N., & Garside, R. (2017). A comparison of results of empirical studies of supplementary search techniques and recommendations in review methodology handbooks: a methodological review. Systematic reviews, 6(1), 234.https://doi.org/10.1186/s13643-017-0625-1

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