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Systematic Reviews

Stages of a systematic review

How to conduct a systematic review from beginning to end - Covidence

  • Assemble your team and allow sufficient time to complete the work - see PredicTER - Predicting Time requirements for Evidence Reviews
  • Do you need to start with a scoping review?  Does something already exist or has someone begun work on the same topic? 
  • Construct a well built question - see UWAs guide - define inclusion and exclusion criteria, identify terms that describe the concepts of your review
  • Lodge a record of your review protocol with Prospero or OSF
  • Work with a librarian to develop an appropriate search strategy (form to request a literature search) - provide the librarian with any 'gold standard' papers that are spot on to your topic, identify sources to be searched
  • Librarians will create peer-reviewed searches to run across sources selected and test the results to ensure they retrieve gold standard papers
  • Librarians use a variety of tools to analyse the best search terms and strategies and to improve retrieval, including via citation tracking (Citation Chaser, CoCites, Connected Papers, Inciteful, etc)
  • Librarians provide search results in an EndNote Library
  • Librarians will document all aspects of the search process in line with the PRISMA-S: an extension to the PRISMA Statement for Reporting Literature Searches in Systematic Reviews - extensive work qualifies for authorship or at minimum acknowledgement
  • Screen results of the search and match against inclusion and exclusion criteria - tools such as Research Screener and Covidence help with this if you have access - consider using the free Systematic Review Data Repository SRDR+ for data extraction, management are archiving
  • Extract data from the citations screened
  • Assess quality
  • Synthesize and write it up for publication

Systematic Reviews - What They Are

Read through this guide to determine if there is a shared understanding on what is involved with doing a systematic review.

Is it really really a systematic review?  Do you have the time and the team assembled to do a systematic review?

University of Sydney Library guide - What is a systematic review?

Web-Based Software Tools for Systematic Literature Review in Medicine: Systematic Search and Feature Analysis - JMIR Medical Informatics - May 2022

Resource use during systematic review production varies widely: a scoping review - Journal of Clinical Epidemiology - 4 June 2021

Systematic review search methods evaluated using the Preferred Reporting of Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses and the Risk Of Bias In Systematic reviews tool - International Journal of Technology Assessment in Health Care - 7 December 2020

Everyone Wants to do a Systematic Review - The Krafty Librarian - 1 October 2019

Assessment of Publication Trends of Systematic Reviews and Randomized Clinical Trials, 1995 to 2017.  Niforatos JD, Weaver M, Johansen ME.  JAMA Intern Med. 2019 Jul 29. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2019.3013. 

Contact a librarian to discuss search support requirements for your systematic review - or submit a search request if your search need is for another review type

Consider requesting a scoping review or even a general literature search in the first instance to get a feel for the amount of information available before refining your request and beginning the systematic review.

A systematic review is a protocol-driven, comprehensive literature review, designed to answer a well defined question.  It involves using a specific research methodology with internationally accepted characteristics.

If you are not prepared to follow this strict methodology then perhaps another review type would be more appropriate. [See the Review Types link].  The Yale University's Harvey Cushing / John Hay Whitney Medical Library has an excellent series of short videos on the process of conducting a systematic review.

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.

Systematic reviews may also contain meta-analyses. Meta-analysis is the use of statistical methods to summarize the results of independent studies. By combining information from all relevant studies, meta-analyses can provide more precise estimates of the effects of health care than those derived from the individual studies included within a review (see The Cochrane Handbook Chapter 10). They also facilitate investigations of the consistency of evidence across studies, and the exploration of differences across studies.

Citation: Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions version 6.0

Series of papers in Heart & Lung
Part 1, the overview - September-October 2020
Part 2, preparation is key: The question and the protocol - 26 August 2020
Part 3, the value of the search - March-April 2021 
Part 4, screening the results - March-April 2021 
Part 5, quality appraisal, data extraction, synthesis - September-October 2021 
Part 6, reporting guidelines - March-April 2022
Part 7, critical appraisal of systematic review quality - May-June 2022

When not done well - The Mass Production of Redundant, Misleading, and Conflicted Systematic Reviews and Meta-analyses - JP Ioannidis - Milbank Q. September 2016

Acknowledgement - much of the content in this guide has been adapted / copied from the Yale University's Harvey Cushing / John Hay Whitney Medical Library's guide on systematic reviews and other comprehensive searching guide.