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Is your review viable?

Before starting a full systematic review check if it is the most appropriate type of review for you to conduct. There are many types of literature reviews, including traditional reviews, scoping reviews, and rapid reviews.

Try the Right Review Tool to help you decide which review is right for your project. The following articles may also help you:

  • Sutton A, Clowes M, Preston L, Booth A. 'Meeting the review family: exploring review types and associated information retrieval requirements'. Health Info Libr J. 2019, 36(3):202-222.
  • Munn Z, Peters MDJ, Stern C, Tufanaru C, McArthur A, Aromataris E. 'Systematic review or scoping review? Guidance for authors when choosing between a systematic or scoping review approach'. BMC Med Res Methodol. 2018, 18(1):143.

Formulating a systematic review question

For guidance on how to formulate a question, we recommend UCL Library's Systematic Review Guide: Formulating a Research Question.

Check your review is viable

Has a recent review already been published on your research question?

Don't waste your time replicating what someone else has already done: check for published reviews in appropriate literature databases. In health and medicine, you could use Cochrane Library, Ovid Medline/PubMed, CINAHL, APA PsycInfo and Google Scholar. In most databases you can filter or limit your search to reviews. Search Epistemonikos for published systematic reviews related to health-decision making.

You should also check if there is a review already in progress. Search Prospero for registered and ongoing systematic reviews.

Is there enough published research to base your review on?

Do some trial/scoping searches on relevant literature databases to check how much research has been published on your research question. If there is very little, or an overwhelming amount, then you may need to revise your research question, search strategy and protocol.

If you are a student who has been asked to do a systematic review as part of your course then check the requirements set out in your assignment. You may be expected to do a mini version of a systematic review and may need to revise your research question based on the amount of time you have available.

Do you have enough time and resources to conduct a systematic review?

A high quality, publishable systematic review requires a team of people who might have other research priorities to take into consideration. You will need at least two people involved in the reviewing stages to avoid bias within the study selection process. One study found that:

“The mean estimated time to complete the project and publish the review was 67.3 weeks” and “The mean number of authors per review was 5, SD=3. Funded reviews took significantly longer to complete and publish (mean=42 vs 26 weeks) and involved more authors and team members (mean=6.8 vs 4.8 people)”. Borah et al: 2017,

It is not unusual for systematic reviews to take several months, especially when being done alongside other research work.

The amount of time will vary depending on the research question and the number of search results returned. It could range from a few hundred results for new, niche areas of research to 20k results or more for big public health topics.

Scoping Review Resources

If you decide it is more appropriate to conduct a scoping review, then you might find the JBI Scoping Review Network's guides and resources helpful.

You would conduct a literature search for a scoping review in a similar manner to a systematic review, so you may also find other sections of this guide helpful.

Further Resources

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