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What does it take to do a systematic review?

  • Time
    On average, systematic reviews require 18 months of preparation.
  • A teamA systematic review can't be done alone!
    You need to work with subject experts to clarify issues related to the topic: information specialists  or librarians to develop comprehensive search strategies and identify appropriate databases; reviewers to screen abstracts and read the full text; a statistician who can assist with data analysis; and a project leader to coordinate and write the final report.
  • A clearly defined question
    Clarify the key question(s) of you systematic review and the rationale for each question. Use the PICO framework to identify key concepts or aspects of the question. Determine inclusion/exclusion criteria.
  • Orientation of the literature
    Orientation of the literature is relevant to (1) find reviews or protocols that are (partially) overlapping your research question and (2) find studies to include. You need to get an impression of the amount of studies relevant to the topic and the variation between relevant studies. Depending on what you find, you can finetune the eligibility criteria.
  • Eligibility criteria (selection criteria)
    Eligibility criteria could be seen as a detailed explanation of the PICO. They should be finalized before starting with the next steps (search development and study selection). The eligibility criteria follow the structure of PICO (or other framework used) and also address the study design.
    For example: Articles will be eligible or inclusion in this review if they meet the following criteria: (1) the Study design is ...... (2) the Population is ... (3) the Intervention is .... (4) the Control group is... (5) the Outcomes are ..... 
  • A protocol
    A systematic review protocol outlines the study methodology. The protocol should include the rationale for the systematic review, key questions broken into aspects or "PICO components", selection criteria, literature searches for published/unpublished literature, the process for study selection, data abstraction/data management, the workflow and tools used for assessing the methodological quality of individual studies, data synthesis, and grading the evidence.  
    Register your protocol in PROSPERO, OSF or another register.
  • Comprehensive literature searches
    Identify appropriate databases and conduct comprehensive and detailed literature searches that can be documented and duplicated.
    It is recommend to involve an information specialist. 
  • Citation management
    You should have working knowledge of EndNote to help manage citations retrieved from literature searches.
  • Follow reporting guidelines
    Follow PRISMA Statement or other appropriate guidelines for reporting your review for publication.

For more information about the nuances of conducting systematic reviews, contact an information specialist.

Guides for conducting a systematic review

Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA Statement)
The aim of the PRISMA Statement is to help authors improve the reporting of systematic reviews and meta-analyses. The focus of PRISMA is randomized trials, but it can also be used as a basis for reporting systematic reviews of other types of research, particularly evaluations of interventions.

Campbell Collaboration
Guidelines for producing a Campbell Systematic Review. The Campbell Collaboration is an international research network that produces systematic reviews of the effects of social interventions.

Cochrane Collaboration Handbook
The Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions is the official document that describes in detail the process of preparing and maintaining Cochrane systematic reviews on the effects of healthcare interventions. 

The Evidence for Policy and Practice Information and Co-ordinating Centre (EPPI-Centre) conducts systematic reviews in the fields of Education, Health Promotion and Public Health, as well as social welfare and international development.

Systematic reviews and meta-analysis
This E-book aims to make familiar current methods and standards for research synthesis. It describes systematic reviews and meta-analyses, with numerous examples relevant to social work practice and policy

Systematic Reviews in the Social Sciences: A Practical Guide
E-book that is a guide to planning and conducting a systematic literature review.

Systematic reviews in educational research 
E-book with a special focus on systematic reviews in educational research. Contains practical examples and takes ethical considerations into account.

Center for Evidence-Based Management
The Center for Evidence-Based Management (CEBMa) is a non-profit member organization dedicated to promoting evidence-based practice in the field of management and leadership.

3IE Impact
International Initiative for Impact Evaluation offers a database of systematic reviews on impact evaluations and has methods information for conducting your own.



Questions? Ask the experts:

Subjects: Information Literacy, SmartCat, Systematic Review, OER, Fake news