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Systematic Reviews: Support from the Lamar Soutter Library

Are you ready to pursue a systematic review?

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)

Incorporating a librarian into your systematic review team can save you a lot of time and effort. Here is how we can help: 

  • Determine if a systematic review is the best type of review to answer your research question 
  • Assist in refining the research question to ensure it is focused and searchable
  • Identify databases and grey literature resources
  • Construct a robust search strategy and translate that strategy across databases
  • Create a review for your team in Covidence, import results into software, and provide Covidence training and troubleshooting 
  • Gather pdfs for full text review
  • Conduct snowball/reference searching for included articles 
  • Check for any retrations or errata related to included articles
  • Track the search result numbers in a PRISMA flowchart
  • Write the search methodology section of the manuscript
  • Aid in identifying options for publishing the review

Please note: By partnering with a librarian for the services listed above, you are agreeing to include the librarian as an author. 

If you'd like to partner with one of our trained librarians for your systematic review, please fill out our Systematic Review Intake Form.

What resources will you need to conduct a review?


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.

Citation manager

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.

Screening tool

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


Contact the Library to Discuss Your Systematic Review

For more information on the library's systematic review program or to request a meeting to discuss your project, contact

Becky Baltich Nelson

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.