This is an archived version of the Handbook. For the current version, please go to or search for this chapter here.  Handsearching

Handsearching involves a manual page-by-page examination of the entire contents of a journal issue or conference proceedings to identify all eligible reports of trials. In journals, reports of trials may appear in articles, abstracts, news columns, editorials, letters or other text. Handsearching healthcare journals and conference proceedings can be a useful adjunct to searching electronic databases for at least two reasons: (1) not all trial reports are included in electronic bibliographic databases, and (2) even when they are included, they may not contain relevant search terms in the titles or abstracts or be indexed with terms that allow them to be easily identified as trials (Dickersin 1994). Each journal year or conference proceeding should be handsearched thoroughly and competently by a well-trained handsearcher for all reports of trials, irrespective of topic, so that once it has been handsearched it will not need to be searched again. A Cochrane Methodology Review has found that a combination of handsearching and electronic searching is necessary for full identification of relevant reports published in journals, even for those that are indexed in MEDLINE (Hopewell 2007a). This was especially the case for articles published before 1991 when there was no indexing term for randomized trials in MEDLINE and for those articles that are in parts of journals (such as supplements and conference abstracts) which are not routinely indexed in databases such as MEDLINE.


To facilitate the identification of all published trials The Cochrane Collaboration has organized extensive handsearching efforts, predominantly through CRGs, Fields and Cochrane Centres. The US Cochrane Center oversees prospective registration of all potential handsearching and maintains files of handsearching activity in the Master List (Journals) and the Master List (Conference Proceedings) (see Over 3,000 journals have been, or are being, searched within the Collaboration. The Master Lists enable search progress to be recorded and monitored for each title and also prevent duplication of effort which might occur if the same journal or conference proceeding were to be searched by more than one group or individual.


Cochrane entities and authors can prioritize handsearching based on where they expect to identify the most trial reports. This prioritization can be informed by searching CENTRAL, MEDLINE and EMBASE in a topic area and identifying which journals appear to be associated with the most retrieved citations. Preliminary evidence suggests that most of the journals with a high yield of trial reports are indexed in MEDLINE (Dickersin 2002) but this may reflect the fact that Cochrane contributors have concentrated early efforts on searching these journals. Therefore, journals not indexed in MEDLINE or EMBASE should also be considered for handsearching.


Authors are not routinely expected to handsearch journals for their reviews but they should discuss with their Trials Search Co-ordinator whether in their particular case handsearching of any journals or conference proceedings might be beneficial.  Authors who wish to handsearch journals or conference proceedings should consult their Trials Search Co-ordinator who can determine whether the journal or conference proceedings has already been searched, and, if it has not, they can register the search on the relevant Master List and provide training in handsearching. Training material is available on the US Cochrane Center web site (


All correspondence regarding the initiation, progress and status of a journal or conference proceeding search should be between the CRG Trials Search Co-ordinator and staff at the US Cochrane Center.