Appraisal of: Chapman AL, Morgan LC, Gartlehner G. Semi-automating the manual literature search for systematic reviews increases efficiency. Health Info Libr J. 2009; 27(1):22-7.

Short description: 

Manual literature searching (or hand-searching) for systematic reviews is often promoted as a way of minimizing retrieval bias (the failure to find relevant studies due to the retrieval capacity of electronic databases), but it can be a lengthy and unsystematic process. This study aimed to determine the validity of a new manual search method to check reference lists of identified studies for relevant articles using the Scopus database by comparing it to the traditional method of manually checking reference lists as the gold standard. Outcome measures included accuracy and completeness of article detection (validity) and personnel time involved (efficiency). The Scopus method identified the same studies as the gold standard, but was much more time efficient (3 hours versus 8 hours, time saving of 62.5%). The study authors concluded that the Scopus method could significantly improve the efficiency of manual searches and thus of systematic reviews.

Limitations stated by the author(s): 

Findings are based on one medium-sized systematic review. Further method studies are needed to validate these findings and identify potential improvement to this approach.

 Scopus requires a paid subscription.

Scopus currently does not include the reference lists of Cochrane reviews, which is a major limitation as Cochrane reviews are a major source of trial information.

Limitations stated by the reviewer(s): 
Findings based on reference checking of only 20 studies.
Study Type: 
Single study