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Systematic Review: Getting started

Revised content order 2022

What is a systematic review?

We recommend that you closely follow the steps on this guide to create your systematic review. A systematic review (SR) is a type of literature review. Unlike other forms of review, where authors can include any articles they consider appropriate, a systematic review aims to remove the reviewer's bias as far as possible by following a clearly defined, transparent process. This Cochrane video gives a clear summary, but you should find examples and methodologies for your specific discipline as there are various approaches to systematic reviews that differ from those in Medicine.

Systematic review workflow

SR workflow: Formulate review question; check for existing review on the topic; write protocol; search strategy including databases and keywords; search key databases; supplementary and grey literature searching; export records and deduplicate; screen abstracts against protocol; obtain full text of included studies; screen full text against protocol; extract and analyse data; meta-analysis or quantitative synthesis; write up results; publish

Before embarking on a systematic review

The production of SRs has been prolific. Since the mid-nineties published SRs have increased by 4676% (Brackett & Batten, 2020), but concerns are held for their quality and usefulness. It is important to consider the following:

  • Have you checked if an SR already exists on your topic? Check for protocols and published reviews.
  • Do you have adequate time and resources, to commit around 12 months to the review?
  • SRs should not be undertaken by just one person. Cochrane recommends multidisciplinary teams work best.
  • To ensure rigour, follow established standards and guidelines.
  • Is an SR the right review type for your topic and/or research question? You may find this decision tree helpful.
  • Familiarise yourself with various review types by reading widely eg. (Sutton et al., 2019).
  • Broaden your knowledge about systematic reviews further, by reading as much as you can about the process and find examples of good reviews eg. (Bastian, 2021).

Systematic review online courses