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SW 627: Systematic Reviews

What is a systematic review?

According to the Cochrane Handbook, section 1.2.2, "the key characteristics of a systematic review are:

  • a clearly stated set of objectives with pre-defined eligibility criteria for studies;
  • an explicit, reproducible methodology;
  • a systematic search that attempts to identify all studies that would meet the eligibility criteria;
  • an assessment of the validity of the findings of the included studies, for example through the assessment of risk of bias; and
  • a systematic presentation, and synthesis, of the characteristics and findings of the included studies."

Green, S., Higgins, J.P.T., Alderson, P., Clarke, M., Mulrow, C.D., Oxman, A.D. (2008). Chapter 1: Introduction. In: Higgins, J.P.T., Green, S. (Eds.), Cochrane handbook for systematic reviews of interventions. The Cochrane Collaboration.

Steps of a Systematic Review

Develop a Research Question: As you write your research question there are a few different frameworks you can choose from, like PICO, that will help you identify key concepts of your research question and determine your study's inclusion/exclusion criteria.

Write a Protocol: A systematic review protocol describes the rationale, hypothesis, and planned methods of the review. It should be prepared before a review is started and used as a guide to carry out the review. Below are just a few resources that will help you write your protocol.

Conduct Literature Search: Identify appropriate databases and develop search strings in order to conduct detailed searches that can be documented and duplicated.

Select Sources: Select sources based on the inclusion and exclusion criteria you develop in your protocol. Citation management tools like RefWorks of EndNote will help you manage all of the literature you find. 

Appraise & Analyze Sources: Review all selected sources to ensure they meet the criteria developed in your protocol and are not duplicate articles. Tools like Rayyan will be helpful as you review your sources. 

Present Results: Follow reporting guidelines as you write your systematic review for publication. PRISMA is a popular reporting standard.

How can the library help?

Librarians can help with each step of the process. If you are thinking about or working on a systematic review, librarians can help you and your team:

  • Identify search terms
  • Create comprehensive search strategies
  • Choose the right databases & resources
  • Assist in finding relevant articles
  • Organize search results using citation management software
  • Assist with the methodology section of the review

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