Skip to Main Content
UMass Chan Medical School, Lamar Soutter Library. Education. Research. Health Care. Empowering the future. Preserving the past.
UMass Chan 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 Lamar Soutter Library's Systematic Review service is available to UMass Chan faculty, staff, and students. 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?


At a minimum, you will need two people to conduct a systematic review as each citation will need to be independently reviewed by two people (with conflicts being resolved by consensus). However, it is recommended to have a larger team in order to get through the review in a more timely manner. In addition to adding more reviewers and bringing a librarian onto your team, you will want to find a statistician if you intend on also conducting a meta-analysis. 


Systematic reviews are a major time commitment. From 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.

Systematic and Reproducible Literature Search

The librarian you bring onto your team will develop a systematic search strategy using appropriate controlled vocabulary terms and keywords and will translate that search across the relevant databases. On your part, locating a few relevant articles that may address your key questions will aid the librarian in this process. 

Systematic Review Software

By partnering with a Lamar Soutter librarian on your systematic review, you will also gain access to Covidence, a support tool that streamlines the screening, quality assessment, and data extraction processes -- and on average reduces the amount of time it takes to complete a review by thirty-five percent.   

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