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Ensuring shared understandings

Doing a systematic review, or a scoping review before beginning a systematic review?  Read through this guide to determine if you are embarking on a systematic review (as defined here).  See the boxes below that describe the roles of the researcher and the librarian in the process.

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 general literature search in the first instance to get a feel for the amount of information available before refining your request.

A systematic review is a protocol-driven, comprehensive literature review, usually designed toanswer a specific clinical question.  It involves a specific research methodology with well-defined, 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 tab that redirects to a guide from the Yale University's Harvey Cushing / John Hay Whitney Medical Library]  The Yale University's Harvey Cushing / John Hay Whitney Medical Library also 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.

Many systematic reviews 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

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.

Researcher's role

Consider if a scoping review is required first.

Become familiar with standards for the design, conduct and reporting of systematic reviews.  eg
.  PRISMA - Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses
.  Cochrane Handbook
.  Institute of Medicine Standards for Systematic Reviews
.  CASP Systematic review critical appraisal checklist
.  JBI Reviewers' Manual
.  An Introduction to Systematic Reviews

Allow sufficient time - systematic reviews take many months of work by the team.  Systematic reviews take time to do well (link to a portion of the book by Booth et al)

Assemble your review team - systematic reviews are rarely done by a single individual.

Be prepared to screen large numbers of references.  Searches for systematic reviews usually generate large numbers of citations.

Define the review question - key question/s to be answered using a PICO or other relevant framework, including inclusion and exclusion criteria.

The review team should meet with the Librarian to ensure clarity of understanding on the topic and the process that will be followed.

Request the librarian to do a scoping review to determine if the topic has already been reviewed.

Provide the librarian with any gold standard references that must be found from a search strategy.

Register the review protocol with PROSPERO - International Prospective Register of Systematic Reviews.

Ensure you have EndNote installed on any computer you will be using in doing the review.

Consider using tools such as RevMan from Cochrane, JBI SUMARI or Rayyan to manage the process.  RevMan cannot be automatically installed on WA Health PCs.  More information:
Covidence and Rayyan. Journal of the Medical Library Association : JMLA, 106(4), 580–583.
McGill Library Guide on using Rayyan for systematic reviews

Choose a quality publication to submit your paper for publication.   Use tools such as Think, Check, Submit, or Identifying Predatory or Pseudo-Journals - World Association of Medical Editors (WAME).

Librarian's role

Determining if a systematic review has already been done on a topic.

Translating the research question/s into an appropriate search strategy.

Translating the search concepts into controlled vocabulary and keywords so that both precision and recall are maximized.

Choosing databases and other information sources to be searched.

Conducting the literature searches across all the information sources chosen and collating search results into an EndNote Library.

Maintaining records of search results and following up with alerts and updates as needed

Providing guidance and support with EndNote to manage citations and produce bibliographies.

Writing the literature search methodology section for the submitted manuscript.

Completing the search results elements of the  PRISMA flow chart.

Providing documentation of searches to increase reproducibility.

Errors in search strategies used in systematic reviews and their effects on information retrieval - J Med Libr Assoc - April 2019

Systematic review searches must be systematic, comprehensive, and transparent: a critique of Perman et al - BMC Public Health - 4 February 2019

Defining the process to literature searching in systematic reviews: a literature review of guidance and supporting studies - BMC Medical Research Methodology - 14 August 2018

Analysis of the time and workers needed to conduct systematic reviews of medical interventions using data from the PROSPERO registry - BMJ Open - 27 February 2017

How can we help?

Research librarians can partner on systematic reviews.

Add us to your team (acknowledgement as contributors) and we will design and manage complex, thorough searches in multiple databases and provide results in an EndNote Library.

Searching to support the production of a systematic review is complex and time consuming - it takes weeks to months depending on the topic.

Librarians will provide you with search strategies and results as required by the 2009 PRISMA Statement for Reporting Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses of Studies That Evaluate Health Care Interventions: Explanation and Elaboration.