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Systematic Review: How to do it

The 7 steps to conduct a (systematic) literature review

Define your subject

The PICO process is a technique used (especially in evidence based practice) to frame a question and break into its defining components in such a way that it becomes answerable.

It´s an acronym for:

  • terms to describe the Population
  • terms to describe the Intervention or influence
  • terms to describe Comparison
  • terms to describe the Outcome in observable entities

Determine your search terms

Determining your search terms:

  •  The formulated PICO-terms
  •  Synonyms, translations
  •  Singular/ plural
  •  Reference works, handbooks
  •  Terms used in articles
  •  Formulate database-specific search terms by using the thesaurus of the various databases

Select your databases

In LibGuides you find Subject guides, research assistance, and useful resources compiled by the University of Groningen Library

  •  Behavioural & Social Sciences
  •  Humanities
  •  Information literacy Libguide

Search your publications

Searching for publications

  •  Boolean operators: AND, OR, NOT

  •  Use limiters
  •  Create an inventory of reviews and articles that you already know
  •  Snowballing / citation search
  •  Use ‘quotes’ characters appropriately
  •  Use wildcards (*, ?)

Get your publications

Get the publications that you selected

  •  Borrow, copy, reserve, print, download, mail
  •  Get-it button
  •  or PDF
  •  or Open Access
  •  Interlibrary Loan (ILL)

Evaluate your publications and internet sources

Evaluate publications and internet sources
Assessment criteria:

  •  Authority
  •  Topicality
  •  Objectivity
  •  Accuracy
  •  With websites: what URL extension does it have?


What is the main quality mark of scientific publications?


Keep a logbook:

Herein keep track of the following:

  1. Record what your source material was
  2. Choose your databases and motivate your choice.

(Don't use Google Scholar as a main source, only as an addition.
               Disadvantages Google Scholar:
·    exporting to a bibliographic manager has to be done one by one
·    the discipline perspective is unclear)

  1. Record the dates of your searches
  2. Record how you used your search terms and Boolean operators, in which fields you looked, if and how truncations and brackets/quotation marks were used. Add up all your search strings
  3. Record which limiters have been used
  4. Export to a Bibliographic Manager and deduplicate
  5. Formulate in- and exclusion criteria and try to assess risk of bias in all the studies