Systematic reviews seek to collate evidence that fits pre-specified eligibility criteria in order to answer a specific research question. They aim to minimize bias by using explicit, systematic methods documented in advance with a protocol.
|Stages of a Systematic Review|
|Stage||What is involved|
|Planning||Assemble a team
Develop an answerable research question
Register a Protocol
Search for similar systematic reviews
Begin developing your inclusion and exclusion criteria
|Searching||Identify sources to search
Develop a list of search terms
Build your search strings
Document your process
Collect and organize your results
Finalize your inclusion and exclusion criteria
Synthesis your results
All guidelines governing the creation of systematic reviews recommend the involvement of a librarian or information professional on your systematic review team. We recommend you work with a librarian during the planning and searching phase of your systematic review.
The National Academics of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine developed Standards for Systematic Reviews. Two standards include involving a librarian.
Standard 3.1.1: Work with a librarian or other information specialist training in performing systematic reviews to plan the search strategy.
Standard 3.1.3: Use an independent librarian or other information specialist to peer review the search strategy
Higgins JPT, Thomas J, Chandler J, Cumpston M, Li T, Page MJ, Welch VA (editors). Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions version 6.1 (updated September 2020). Cochrane, 2020. Available from www.training.cochrane.org/handbook.
The term "Systematic Review" is frequently used, without the full understanding of the process. Depending on your information needs and research question, there may be a better review type for you to use.
|How a systematic review differs from a literature review|
|Systematic Review||Literature Review|
|Question||Focused on a single question||Not necessarily focused on a single question, but may describe an overview|
|Protocol||A peer review protocol or plan in included||No protocol is included|
|Background||Both provide summaries of the available literature on a topic|
|Objective||Clear objectives are identified||Objectives may or may not be identified|
|Inclusion/Exclusion Criteria||Criteria is stated before the review is conducted||Criteria not specified|
|Search strategy||Comprehensive search conducted in a systematic way||Strategy not explicitly stated|
|Selecting articles||Usually clear and explicit||Not described in a literature review|
|Evaluating articles||Comprehensive evaluation of study quality||Evaluation of study quality may or may not be included|
|Extraction of data||Usually clear and specific||The process is not explicit and clear|
|Results & data synthesis||Clear summaries of studies based on high quality evidence||Summary based on studies where the quality of articles may not be specified. May be influenced by the reviewer's theories, needs, and beliefs.|
|Discussion||Written by an expert or group of experts with a detailed and well grounded knowledge of the issues|
Adapted from Bettany-Saltikov, J. (2010). Learning how to undertake a systematic review: part 1. Nursing Standard (Royal College of Nursing (Great Britain) : 1987), 24(50), 47–55.
Other misconceptions surrounding a systematic review:
Petticrew, M. (2001). Systematic reviews from astronomy to zoology: myths and misconceptions. BMJ: British Medical Journal (International Edition), 322(7278), 98. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.322.7278.98
Other Review Types
|Review Type||Characteristics||The Search||Accomplishes|
|Literature Review/Narrative Review||Involves a process of identifying sources to include for review
Synthesizes the information
Analyzes the results for their contribution to the literature body
|May or may not include comprehensive searching||
Identifies what has been accomplished in the literature
|Mapping Review||Map out and categorize existing literature||Completeness of searching determined by time/scope constraints||Identifies gaps of knowledge
Useful to support additional reviews or new research
|Overview||Summary of the literature||May or may not include comprehensive searching||Surveys the literature and describes it's characteristics
Provides a broad summation of a topic
|Scoping Review||Preliminary assessment of the potential size and scope of available research literature
May include research in progress
|Completeness of searching determined by time/scope constraints.||
Identifies the nature and extent of research evidence
|Umbrella Review||Specifically refers to compiling evidence from multiple reviews into one accessible and usable document||Identification of component reviews, but no search for primary studies||Highlights other reviews
Provides a quick overview on a topic
Requires the pre-existence
of the narrower component reviews
For more information on other review types, visit the Literature Review Guide.
Grant, M. J. and Booth, A. (2009), A typology of reviews: an analysis of 14 review types and associated methodologies. Health Information & Libraries Journal, 26: 91–108. doi:10.1111/j.1471-1842.2009.00848.x
Whether you wish to move forward with an actual systematic review or another type, the A.T. Still Memorial Librarians are happy to assist you throughout the process. Specific help is outlined on each part of the process, below is a general overview of how we can assist.