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Systematic reviews

1. Introduction

Systematic reviews are a type of research methodology that involves a comprehensive and unbiased synthesis of all available evidence on a particular research question or topic. They are a rigorous and standardised approach to reviewing and analysing literature, designed to minimise bias and maximise the validity and reliability of the findings. Systematic reviews are widely used in healthcare, social sciences, education, and other fields to inform policy and practice, and are considered the gold standard for evidence-based decision-making.

Overall, systematic reviews play a critical role in advancing our understanding of complex issues and improving the quality of decision-making in several fields of practice.

1.1 Our role in supporting systematic reviews
1.2 What is a systematic review?
1.3 Why are systematic reviews needed?
1.4 Some other types of reviews
1.5 Systematic review process
1.6 Is there already a systematic review on your topic?

2. Protocol

A systematic review protocol is a critical component of conducting a rigorous and transparent systematic review. It outlines the methods and procedures that will be followed in the review, ensuring that the process is systematic, transparent, and replicable.

2.1 What is a protocol?
2.2 Registering your protocol and why is it important
2.3 How to Register a Systematic Review in PROSPERO
2.4 Guidance on writing your protocol

3. Literature Searching

Literature searching is the process of identifying, selecting, and retrieving relevant literature to support clinical research activities. It involves using a variety of search strategies and databases to identify relevant studies. The aim of literature searching is to provide a comprehensive and up-to-date overview of the available evidence. Literature searching is a critical component of clinical research, as it ensures that research questions are informed by the best available evidence and that study designs and interventions are grounded in existing knowledge.

3.1 Search Strategy
3.2 Other search frameworks
3.3 Understanding search strategies
3.4 Where to conduct your literature search
3.5 Is PubMed appropriate for systematic reviews?
3.6 Hand searching
3.7 Grey literature
3.8 Snowballing
3.9 Pearling (secondary searching)

4. Managing your search results

Managing literature search results in research refers to the process of organising, storing, and tracking the publications that have been identified and reviewed during a literature search. This may involve using software tools or databases to manage citations and abstracts, as well as keeping track of full-text articles that have been obtained. Effective management of literature search results can help researchers to avoid duplication of effort and it is a critical component of the research process and is essential for ensuring the quality and credibility of the process.

4.1 Saving searches
4.2 De-duplicating searches
4.3 Reference Management Software

5. How to document your searches

How to document your searches: This stage is a part of reporting standard for systematic reviews which is the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) statement. It provides a checklist of items that should be included in a systematic review report to ensure that it is transparent and complete. The PRISMA statement is widely used and recognised as the standard for reporting systematic reviews in many fields, including healthcare and social sciences.

5.1 Documenting literature searches
5.2 Reporting Standards

6. Screening

Once you have completed your literature search, it is time to start screening the results to remove the papers that do not meet the inclusion criteria stated in your protocol. It is recommended to have two reviewers at this stage and a team at the end of screening to resolve any conflict.

6.1 Title and Abstract screening
6.2 Retrieve full-text articles
6.3 Full-text screening

7. Critical appraisal

Critical appraisal in systematic reviews involves rigorous evaluation and synthesis of primary research studies to assess their quality, relevance, and potential biases, ensuring that the overall conclusions drawn are reliable and valid. It plays a vital role in establishing the credibility and trustworthiness of the systematic review findings.

7.1 Quality assessment tools

8. Data extraction

Gathering pertinent information from studies that you have determined are eligible to be included in your review and structuring it in a way that will enable you to synthesise the research and reach conclusions is known as data extraction. This process needs to be done according to PRISMA or Cochrane ( reporting checklists and guidelines.

Follow this link to the Cochrane Handbook “Chapter 5: Collecting data” which suggests that at least two people need to perform the data extraction.

SRDR+ is a free, powerful, easy to use tool for data extraction, management, and archiving during systematic reviews.

8.1 Data extraction tools
8.2 Statistics

9. Evidence Synthesis or describing the results

After data extraction, you will provide a deeper understanding of the selected studies. A qualitative summary should be included in every evaluation, however, they may or may not be a meta-analysis.

9.1 Qualitative Synthesis
9.3 Quantitative Synthesis (Meta-Analysis)

10. Writing the manuscript

When writing up, keep the requirements of the funding body or your target journal in mind.

There are several guidelines available that you can refer to when preparing your manuscript. In any case, you can harvest most of the introduction and methodology section from your protocol.

PRISMA statement PRISMA checklist PRISMA flow diagrams
10.1 Publishing

11. Training and support

Support for staff and postgraduate research students:

Training and support for literature searching and general consultation for writing a protocol is available from Academic Engagement team, please email: