Calling All Systematic Reviewers

The CLAHRC WM Director is provoked by the ever increasing – indeed, exponentially increasing – number of articles returned by standard literature searches. At this rate, screening all the articles identified by a typical search will be all but impossible within two decades. Some form of systematisation is necessary.

A start has been made in clinical research through the creation of the McMaster Premium LiteratUre Service (PLUS) database of pre-appraised clinical studies. PLUS is generated by manually reviewing 120 clinical journals for high-quality articles using a reproducible selection process. A paper comparing PLUS with 89 recent Cochrane reviews,[1] found that while PLUS contained fewer articles, restricting searches to PLUS did not change the conclusions of any of the Cochrane reviews included in the sample.

The PLUS database is a start, but:

  1. it still relies on manual review;
  2. it is confined to clinical research.

A method is urgently required to:

  1. improve coding of topic and study type;
  2. automate compilation of bibliographies;
  3. cover health and social care as a whole.

Literature retrieval processes will be radically different in two decades – they will have to be.

— Richard Lilford, CLAHRC WM Director


  1. Hemens BJ, Haynes RB. McMaster Premium LiteratUre Service (PLUS) performed well for identifying new studies for updated Cochrane reviews. J Clin Epidemiol. 2012; 65(1): 62-72.



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