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Systematic Reviews and Meta Analysis

A resource for finding data sources, filters, and standards to support systematic searches of the biomedical literature.

Fetching Articles

You're done with the title and abstract screen and you're faced with a list of dozens or even hundreds of articles you have to retrieve. What to do? It's a time consuming process, no matter what (hey, you said you wanted to do a systematic review, right?). If you're using Covidence, you can export the selected records into EndNote or Zotero, as this will make the process easier. When you've got them all you can upload the pdf files back into Covidence in bulk. The following steps will make the process of collecting the pdfs more efficient and thorough.

  • Both EndNote and Zotero can fetch some articles for you automatically. In a perfect world, EndNote would be great, as it can, theoretically, perform batch downloads for all available pdfs. In this real world however, EndNote is merely good, since Harvard Library's citation linker doesn't work with EndNote. So, while you can get open access or free pdfs, licensed material won't come down. It's still worth doing. In EndNote, Highlight the articles you want and, then, under the References menu, run the Find Full Text function. Zotero has a similar function. This will get you a significant fraction of the pdfs without much work at all.

You'll still be left with a lot of pdfs to get, and you'll have to work one reference at a time. To make this efficient, you should make use of Harvard Library tools that either take you to the pdf or automatically give you the option to request a copy through the library's Interlibrary Loan service. You can use either Harvard Library's HOLLIS catalog or PubMed (Make sure you start at the Countway's Web page). HOLLIS may be the better choice as it contains material that is not included in PubMed.

  • To use HOLLIS, search for the reference with the collection set to the default "everything". You can paste in just the DOI, the whole title and author name, or even the whole citation. Usually the reference you're looking for will be at the top of the results.
    - If Harvard has online access, follow the View PDF or Online Access link
    - If Harvard has the article in print only, click "Check Access Options". You'll see Harvard's holdings and you can choose to come to the library to scan the article or choose "Scan & Deliver/Interlibrary" loan to request a copy to be delivered to you.
    - If Harvard has no online access or no print copy, you'll get an option to request the option through Interlibrary Loan.
  • In PubMed, make sure you start from the Countway Web page or from a Harvard Library page so the NCBI knows you're interested in Harvard's access (an can authenticate with a HarvardKey). Then search with the DOI, the PubMed ID, or the whole citation. Once you're looking at the Abstract view, follow the "Try Harvard Library" link or the PubMed Central link to get full text. Avoid any publisher link unless it's clearly labled "open access" or "free." If Harvard has online access the Try Harvard Library link will take you right to the pdf. If Harvard doesn't have online access, you'll be taken to a page with options to request a copy.
  • It may be worth seeing if you can get some articles through Google. Take the full title "enclosed in quotes" and search Google (not Google Scholar). Sometimes you will find a pdf available somewhere. Usually it will be one of the first five or so links. But don’t click too far. Research Gate and the like will try to get you to register for accounts and such but that is probably a waste of time. Just move on.

The above steps will get you most of the articles. If your ILL request comes back or finds nothing, check the citation. You'd be surprised how many are incorrect. Even a mistake in the issue or volume may result in you not getting the article. If you need help at this point, it's best checking in with a librarian.

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