Skip to main content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.
UMass Medical School, Lamar Soutter Library. Education. Research. Health Care. Empowering the future. Preserving the past.
UMass Medical School Homepage Lamar Soutter Library Homepage

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)


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.

How Librarians Can Help

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:

  1. Determine if a systematic review is the best tool to meet your research needs.  There are other types of reviews that are available.  Often, the systematic review format is not the best type of review to answer your research question
  2. Conclude if a systematic review has already been done on your subject
  3. Define the research question
  4. Assist in writing the protocol
  5. Identify databases and grey literature resources
  6. Develop the systematic search
  7. Construct search strategies for each database
  8. Execute searches and download the results to EndNote or RefWorks.
  9. Use RedCAP, Rayyan, AHRQ Systematic Review Data Repository, Excel or other data management tools to facilitate article review
  10. Serve as an initial reviewer of abstracts against inclusion/exclusion criteria
  11. Track the search result numbers in a PRISMA flowchart
  12. Write the search methodology section of the systematic review
  13. Identify best options for publishing the review

As members of the systematic review team, librarians who make major contributions to the final project expect to be included as authors. 

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

Jessica Kilham


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.