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Systematic Reviews

A guide to the elements and process of Systematic Reviews

Conducting a Systematic Review

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

  • 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 results; and
  • Report for publication.

What to consider when getting started with a systematic review

Time - An average systematic review requires about 18 months of preparation.

Team - Subject experts to help clarify issues related to the topic; librarians who can develop the comprehensive search strategies and identify the appropriate databases to search; reviewers who can screen abstracts and read the full text; statistician who can assist with the appropriate analysis of the data; and project leader who will coordinate and write the final report

Written protocol - A written protocol outlines the methodology, including the rationale for the systematic review, key questions broken into PICO components, inclusion/exclusion criteria, and literature search for both published and unpublished literature, data abstraction and data management, assessment of methodological quality of individual studies, data synthesis, and grading the evidence for each key question.

Literature searching - First, identify systematic reviews that may already address the key questions; then identify the appropriate databases and conduct a comprehensive and detailed literature search that can be documented and duplicated.

Citation management - Gain a working knowledge of EndNote or other software package to help manage the citations from the literature search.

Guidelines for reporting - Use the appropriate guidelines for reporting your review for publication.