Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.
Library and Information Services for the East Metropolitan Health Service and the South Metropolitan Health Service banner Library and Information Services for the East Metropolitan Health Service and the South Metropolitan Health Service home Library and Information Services for the East Metropolitan Health Service and the South Metropolitan Health Service logo

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

Research Screener - The SMHS Research Support and Development unit will provide a login to SMHS staff needing to screen large sets of citations for research or systematic / scoping reviews.  Form to request a login.
Link to login for SMHS staff with an account.


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.