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Systematic Reviews: Introduction

Learn how to conduct a systematic review

What is a systematic review?

A systematic review attempts to collate all empirical evidence that fits pre-specified eligibility criteria in order to answer a specific research question. The key characteristics of a systematic review are:

  • a clearly defined question with inclusion & exclusion criteria;
  • rigorous & systematic search of the literature;
  • critical appraisal of included studies;
  • data extraction and management;
  • analysis & interpretation of results;
  • and report for publication.


Why do we need systematic reviews?

The systematic review process has been developed to minimise bias and ensure transparency. Methods should be adequately documented so that they can be replicated. The systematic review is an approach used in health, education and social policy (as part of evidence based policy or practice) and is much more than a 'literature review' because it follows a strict methodology which means it is 'transparent, rigorous and replicable'.

When conducted well, systematic reviews should give us the best possible estimate of any true effect. An assessment of the methodological quality of reviews should highlight the limitations of a review.

Benefits include:

  • Save clinicians and researchers valuable time
  • Take a large mass of literature and make concise sense of it
  • Objectively evaluate the quality of evidence on a topic
  • Resolve or highlight contradictions in the literature
  • Guide clinical decisions
  • Form the basis for practice guidelines and health care policy
  • Identify the need for additional research
  • Prevent unnecessary studies from being carried out

Systematic reviews are gaining in popularity at medical research institutions across Europe and America. Guidelines either state the need for or highly recommend the involvement of a librarian or information professional when undergoing a systematic review project.

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This LibGuide is bases on the Libguide Systematic Reviews from the Vrije Universiteit medical library, Amsterdam

Assistance with literature searches

UMCG-employees and (RUG) students are welcome to make an appointment about search strategy for a systematic review or a CAT.

Please note that, due to COVID-19, we are only able to conduct Research Consultations via Zoom or phone at this time.

We offer individual support for:

  • Systematic Reviews (search strategy development, optimalisation)
  • PICO-CAT (search strategy)
  • finding out why some articles are not retrieved with your search strategy
  • help to translate a search strategy to other databases
  • advice to update an older search strategy
  • find answers for questions about citation management/ deduplication​/ checklists for study quality/ reporting guidelines/ search filters

How can the Central Medical Library help?

Research librarians can partner with you on systematic reviews.

Add us to your author team and we will design and manage complex, thorough searches in multiple databases. We will also provide you with:

  • advise on reference management (EndNote),

  • tables with detailed search strategies,

  • a narrative of the search methodology.


Sjoukje van der Werf's picture
Sjoukje van der Werf
+31 (0)50 361 6197/ 6200
Subjects:- Medicine