What is a Systematic Review?
A systematic review is a specialised literature review that tries to identify, appraise, select and synthesise all high-quality research evidence relevant to a research question.
How is it different to a literature review?
|Literature Review||Systematic Review|
|Key articles on a topic or overview of a research area.||Type of research methodology.|
|Influenced by needs of the researcher.||Focused on a specific research question.|
|No protocol for the items to include in the review.||Protocol is provided stating inclusion & exclusion criteria.|
|Search using keywords or key concepts to find enough/appropriate material.||Comprehensive search conducted in a systematic way.|
|Explicit and replicable search strategy|
The process of conducting a systematic review
The key steps to follow:
- Formulate review question.
- Check your review is viable (trial/scoping searches).
- Write protocol including defined inclusion/exclusion criteria.
- Develop a systematic search strategy, that can be reproduced across databases.
- Title/Abstract screening based on your inclusion criteria.
- Full text screening based on your inclusion and quality assessment criteria.
- Additional searching (e.g. citation searching, references, grey literature).
- The review team agree which studies to include in final review.
- Extract data or analyse studies.
- Write up and publish.
Traditionally, systematic reviews have been done in medicine and health, as a meta-synthesis using quantitative data. However, systematic reviews are now done in a variety of fields and the analysis might also be qualitative or mixed methods.
Find out more
- What are systematic reviews? Video from Cochrane.
- Introduction to Conducting Systematic Reviews Module from Cochrane Interactive Learning (note: this module is free, but you need to create an account to access it).
- Our Systematic Review Reading List has further resources on conducting systematic (and related) reviews.