A systematic review (SR) attempts to collate all empirical evidence that fits pre-specified eligibility criteria in order to answer a specific research question. It uses explicit, systematic methods that are selected with a view to minimizing bias, thus providing more reliable findings from which conclusions can be drawn and decisions made. (The Cochrane Handbook)
The library is prepared to support your systematic review. If you would like assistance with a systematic review, please fill out our Systematic Review Intake Form.
As part of a research team, librarians can be partners in the development and execution of systematic reviews and other projects. Some aspects of the review that a librarian can assist with include:
As members of the systematic review team, librarians who make major contributions to the final project expect to be included as authors.
One truly is the loneliest number when it comes to conducting a systematic review. You will need a dedicated team to help you with the work of reviewing, synthesizing, and writing.
Systematic Reviews are a major time commitment. Between the time of inception to the time of submission, it may take between 18 to 24 months. There are many steps involved in the review; the search development and reference collection alone could take between 3 to 6 months.
Clearly defined question
Formulate a clear, well-defined research question and identify key concepts. Define your terminology. The PICO framework is a useful tool to specify population, disease or problem, intervention, comparison, and outcome.
A protocol outlines the methodology of the systematic review, promotes transparency, and helps with project management. It should include the rationale for the systematic review, key questions broken into PICO components, inclusion/exclusion criteria, literature searches for published/unpublished literature, data abstraction/data management, assessment of methodological quality of individual studies, and data synthesis for each key question. This should be developed prior to the formal literature search and may be needed for publication. Consider registering your protocol. If you need help deciding where to register your protocol, contact a librarian. Here is a link to an example protocol template from the University of Warwick.
Thorough/systematic/reproducible literature search
Locate a few relevant articles that may address your key questions. Then, identify appropriate databases and conduct comprehensive and detailed literature searches that can be documented and duplicated. A librarian can help develop the search strategy and perform a focused and replicable search for articles.
The library recommends using a citation manager for systematic reviews. LSL provides access to both EndNote and RefWorks to institutional users. Many teams may have a preferred citation manager; other free options include Mendeley or Zotero.
Choosing a screening tool is much the same as choosing a citation manager. The library does not endorse or pay for any particular screening tool, but would suggest teams consider issues of cost, access, and the lifecycle of the data generated by their systematic review when considering a screening tool. Not sure where to start? Rayyan QCRI is a free tool; DistillerSR or Covidence are subscription only. Other teams have used a shared spreadsheet.
Understanding of reporting guidelines
An important part of publishing a systematic review is transparent reporting of your review. Some tools that can help you in this process are PRISMA or The Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions (Part 1, section 3: Reporting the Review). Target publications may also have their own reporting standards and guidance.
Adapted from https://guides.mclibrary.duke.edu/sysreview
For more information on the library's systematic review program or to request a meeting to discuss your project, contact
The health sciences librarian can play a valuable role on systematic review teams. Librarians at the Lamar Soutter Library have served on these teams and have made a significant contribution to these projects.