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Systematic Reviews: Is it right for you?

Basic information on types of "knowledge syntheses"/systematic reviews to help users plan the best review type, team, methods and have a clear sense of the expectations/responsibilities of performing these comprehensive literature review projects.

Highlighted Resources

Front Cover of Comprehensive Systematic Review for Advanced Practice Nursing

Comprehensive Systematic Review for Advanced Practice Nursing

The book presents, clearly and comprehensively, the knowledge and skills necessary to conduct a foundational comprehensive systematic review (CSR). It encompasses the complexities of the entire process, from asking clinical questions to getting the evidence into practice. The text includes question-specific methods and analysis and compares CSR methods, literature reviews, integrated reviews, and meta-studies. It describes how to find and appraise relevant studies, including the non-published “grey” literature and criteria for selecting or excluding studies, and describes how to use the results in practice. 

By Jacknunn - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Cochrane Systematic Reviews

Cochrane is a British non-profit, non-governmental organization formed to organize medical research findings so as to facilitate evidence-based choices about health interventions faced by health professionals, patients, and policy makers. The group conducts systematic reviews of randomized controlled trials of health-care interventions and diagnostic tests and publishes them in The Cochrane Library. A growing number of reviews incorporate results from non-randomized, observational studies.

Plymouth University's Literature Search Workbook Title Slide

Plymouth University's Literature Search Workbook

This self guidance handbook from Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry is designed for those who are interested in conducting a literature review project, but don't know where to start.  It covers systematic reviews, scoping reviews, and general best practices for synthesizing the literature.  

Murad et al, 2016

Systematic Reviews & the Evidence Pyramid

The proposed new evidence-based medicine pyramid. (A) The traditional pyramid. (B) Revising the pyramid: (1) lines separating the study designs become wavy (Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation), (2) systematic reviews are ‘chopped off’ the pyramid. (C) The revised pyramid: systematic reviews are a lens through which evidence is viewed (applied).

Prisma Flow Diagram

PRISMA: Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews & Meta-Analyses

PRISMA is an evidence-based minimum set of items for reporting in systematic reviews and meta-analyses. PRISMA focuses on the reporting of reviews evaluating randomized trials, but can also be used as a basis for reporting systematic reviews of other types of research, particularly evaluations of interventions.

What is a Systematic Review?

Systematic reviews aim to identify and analyze “all” (as much as possible) existing knowledge on a narrow, specific research question by searching broadly and comprehensively, applying pre-determined inclusion/exclusion criteria, evaluating quality of study methods and synthesizing their findings to provide generalizable evidence on the research question. 

Is a systematic review right for your research question?

Your questions to the following questions can help you decide if a systematic review is appropriate and will be a useful format for your investigation of a research question.

1.  What is your purpose for this project? What do you hope to accomplish?   Some possible purposes:

  • Determine best practices/best treatment
  • Inform policy
  • Summarize qualitative studies
  • Integrate qualitative studies with quantitative ones
  • Explore a new topic
  • Investigate applications of a theory

2. How much research already exists on this topic?

  • How much is published?
  • What steps have you taken to determine your answers to the above questions?

3. What kind of research do you expect to find on your topic? In what types of publications?

4. When do you expect/need to have results ready to submit for presentation/publication/grade/degree?

5. On a daily/weekly basis, how much time do you realistically expect to have available for reviewing abstracts and full-texts, extracting data, evaluating study quality and writing in the above time frame?

6. How many people will be working on reviewing abstracts & full text, data mining and writing of this paper?

How much time will these people have available to work on the project within the proposed time frame?

7. What plans do you have for contingencies in the event one or more study team members cannot complete their portion of the work in the time frame?

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