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Systematic Reviews

This guide will introduce you to the process of conducting a systematic review.

What is a systematic review?

A systematic review attempts to collate all emiprical evidence that fits pre-specified eligbility criteria in order to answer a specific research question The key characteristics of a systematic review are:

  • A clearly defined question with inclusion and exclusion criteria
  • Rigorous and systematic search of the literature
  • Critical appraisal of included studies
  • Data extraction and management
  • Analysis and interpretation of the results
  • Report for publication

For more information, see What is a Systematic Review?

What does it take to do a systematic review?

Time: Systematic reviews require 18 months of preparation, on average.

A Team: The ideal systematic review team includes:

  • Subject experts to clarify issues related to the topic
  • Librarians to develop comprehensive search strategies and to identify appropriate databases
  • Reviewers to screen abstracts and read the full text
  • A statistician who can assist with data analysis
  • A project leader to coordinate and write the final report

A clearly defined question: Clarify the key question(s) of your systematic review and the rationale for each question. Use the PICO framework to identify key concepts of the question. Determine inclusion/exclusion criteria.

A written protocol: You need to write a protocol outlining the study methodology. The protocol should include:

  • Rationale for the systematic review
  • Key questions broken down into PICO components
  • Inclusion/exclusion criteria
  • Literature searches for published/unpublished literature
  • Data abstraction/data management
  • Assessment of methodological quality of individual studies
  • Data synthesis
  • Grading the evidence for each key question

Need help writing a protocol? See the University of Warwick's protocol template.

A registered protocol: After you write a protocol, you should register it with PROSPERO, an International Prospective Register of Systematic Reviews. Registration is free and open to anyone undertaking systematic reviews of the effects of interventions and strategies to prevent, diagnose, treat, and monitor health conditions, for which there is a health-related outcome.

Comprehensive literature searches: First, identify systematic reviews that may address your key questions. Then, identify appropriate databases and conduct comprehensive and detailed literature searches that can be documented and duplicated.

Citation management: You should have working knowledge of EndNote Basic to help manage citations retrieved from literature searches.

Follow reporting guidelines: Use appropriate guidelines for reporting your review for publication.

This guide has been adapted with permission from the Duke University Medical Center Library and Archives.

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