To date, it remains unclear which search systems are most appropriate for evidence synthesis and why. Advice on which search engines and bibliographic databases to choose for systematic searches is limited and lacking systematic, empirical performance assessments.
This study investigates and compares the systematic search qualities of 28 widely used academic search systems, including Google Scholar, PubMed, and Web of Science. A novel, query‐based method tests how well users are able to interact and retrieve records with each system. The study is the first to show the extent to which search systems can effectively and efficiently perform (Boolean) searches with regards to precision, recall, and reproducibility. We found substantial differences in the performance of search systems, meaning that their usability in systematic searches varies. Indeed, only half of the search systems analyzed and only a few Open Access databases can be recommended for evidence syntheses without adding substantial caveats. Particularly, our findings demonstrate why Google Scholar is inappropriate as principal search system. We call for database owners to recognize the requirements of evidence synthesis and for academic journals to reassess quality requirements for systematic reviews. Our findings aim to support researchers in conducting better searches for better evidence synthesis.