Do we need to search Web of Science citation indexes for systematic reviews?

5 min readJul 18, 2022
Web of Science Core Collection List of Databases Varies Depending on Institutional Subscription

Before you judge, I am not sure if the plural form is citation indices or citation indexes, so if you have studied English, Help! [Thanks to Liz on Twitter quoting from “Index, A History of the” that indices are for mathematicians & economists; indexes are what you find at the back of a book].

When did WoS start to be seriously considered?

Just like Scopus and Google Scholar, WoS Core Collection databases are not specific to health/medical sciences. As a result, they have not been considered a primary search source for healthcare systematic reviews.

The only use of WoS, Scopus and Google Scholar was to check the citations to the included studies to identify more relevant studies — so-called forward citation searching. Alongside backward citation search they may be called pearl growing, or snowballing.

The rumours started after Bramer et al. 2017 put the Web of Science (WoS) on the map of databases to be searched for systematic reviews. Before their study, searching WoS for a healthcare systematic review was as subjective as searching Scopus or Google Scholar. Furthermore, MECIR added a ‘highly desirable’ item for conference abstracts to the list of standards. BUT, did we correctly interpret Bramer et al.’s paper and MECIR’s item?

Don’t decide before finishing this post.

A. Critical Appraisal of Bramer et al. 2017 for practice

While I consider this research to help in changing the subjective practice of choosing databases to a more objective practice, just like any other study, it should be critically appraised and interpreted in its context. Here are considerations in interpreting the results

  1. This research was based on 58 reviews.
  2. The reviews were selected if the first author’s affiliation was a specific organisation (i.e., Erasmus MC).
  3. Since the searches for the above reviews were often librarian-mediated, the search methods and the list of databases used for reviews published have been affected by recommendations from the institutional librarians.
  4. Access to a source could…

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