Systematic Reviews & Other Review Types
A systematic review seeks to answer a specific research question by analyzing and synthesizing previously published research. A systematic review uses specific, stated criteria to identify relevant research and systematic, explicit methods to minimize bias.
- Create a review team with members who have expertise in the appropriate topic areas, systematic review methods, the literature search process, and quantitative analysis.
- Formulate a precise research question that fills an information gap and does not duplicate other efforts.
- Develop a systematic review protocol that is peer-reviewed and made publicly available. The protocol should identify the reporting guidelines to be used, such as PRISMA.
- Develop and document a search strategy. Use the Research by Subject Guide that most closely matches the review topic to identify the best databases and other sources of research. You can also refer to our Getting Started guide for general guidance on research basics.
- Screen results to determine if they meet your inclusion criteria. At least two researchers should be involved in the article review and data extraction process to reduce bias and errors.
- Assess included studies for bias. This is called an appraisal, a risk of bias assessment, or a quality assessment.
- Perform an analysis of research data. If studies are of a similar design, you may be able to use statistical methods to perform a meta-analysis. If your studies are not of a similar design, you will need to use a descriptive analysis.
- Present the main findings of your evidence analysis and synthesis. Finished reports should include all the steps undertaken and provide enough detail so that the review could be reproduced.
A systematic review takes an average of 18 months or 1139 hours to prepare – be sure to allow enough time! Your research question, timeline, or resources may be better suited for another type of review.
There are specialized tools to help with each step of a systematic review.
- SR Toolbox
- Searchable web catalog of tools that support various tasks of the systematic review process.
- AHRQ Effective Health Care Program Tools & Software
- Training modules on review processes, data repositories, tools for screening and analyzing data.
- Cochrane RevMan
- Software to facilitate the writing and editing of protocols and full reviews, perform meta-analysis of data, and produce graphics.
- CADTH Finding the Evidence: Literature Searching Tools in Support of Systematic Reviews
- Search aids, strategies and checklists for comprehensive searches
- ISSG Search Filters Resource
- Search filters by specific study design or focus
Sources for locating clinical trials include:
- ClinicalTrials.gov from the U.S. National Library of Medicine
- International Clinical Trials Registry Platform from the World Health Organization (WHO)
Citation management tools can help you keep your sources organized, can help you collaborate with others, can insert formatted citations into your paper, and format your reference list. UNE provides access to RefWorks , but other options like Endnote, Zotero, or Mendeley may also be helpful or integrate with review tools or software.
A systematic review protocol describes the rationale, hypothesis, and planned methods of the review and should be prepared before a review is started. Review protocols should be made publicly available in a registry or database such as:
- Johanna Briggs Institute Critical Appraisal Tools
- Checklists to assess the quality of research for many review types
- GRADE Working Group
- Grading criteria for assessing of evidence in health care
- Centre for Evidence Based Medicine Catalogue of Bias
- Comprehensive catalog of the different types of bias to be on the look for as you appraise research.
The most widely accepted standard for reporting systematic reviews is PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analysis).
Publishers may require other specific standards or guidelines. Check the literature for your discipline. Here are some examples of discipline-specific reporting guidelines:
- RePorting standards for Systematic Evidence Syntheses (ROSES)
- Conservation and environmental research
- APA Style Journal Reporting Standards (JARS)
- Quantitative, qualitative, and mixed-methods reporting standards in the behavioral sciences
Detailed guides to the systematic review process and published standards.
- An Introduction to Systematic Reviews [print book]
- Doing a Systematic Review: A Student’s Guide [print book]
- Cochrane Handbook of Systematic Reviews of Interventions [ebook and print book versions]
- Finding What Works in Health Care: Standards for Systematic Reviews [ebook]
Beyond Systematic Reviews
There are other types of reviews that synthesize research with varying degrees of rigor. To help decide, use the What Type of Review is Right for You decision tree and/or What Review is Right for You website.
Distinguish between different types of reviews and which type is the best fit for your research.
- Meeting the review family: exploring review types and associated information retrieval requirements.
- Review Typology: The Basic Types of Reviews for Synthesizing Evidence for the Purpose of Knowledge Translation
Other Review Types
- Traditional Reviews
- Synthesize evidence by focusing on a topic and/or time period without explicitly adhering to methodology and reporting guidelines and without necessarily being explicit about the methods used. Examples include: narrative review, narrative summary, critical review, integrative review, state-of-the-art review.
- Review of Reviews
- Compile evidence from multiple reviews into one document, generally following the same methods and reporting standards as systematic reviews. Examples include: review of reviews, overview, umbrella review.
- Rapid Reviews
- Produce information in a short period of time by abbreviating or omitting processes normally followed for systematic reviews; any modifications to the process must be explicitly declared. Examples include: rapid review, rapid evidence assessment, rapid realist review.
- Qualitative Reviews
- Synthesize findings from qualitative studies; may or may not use systematic review methods and reporting guidelines. Examples include: experiential reviews, qualitative evidence synthesis, qualitative systematic reviews, qualitative meta-synthesis, qualitative research synthesis, meta-interpretation, meta-aggregation, meta-study, meta-narrative review.
- Mixed Methods Reviews
- Integrate mixed qualitative and quantitative data, or incorporate mixed methods primary studies. Examples include: mixed methods review, mixed methods synthesis, Bayesian meta-analysis, critical interpretive synthesis, narrative synthesis.
- Purpose-Specific Reviews
- All review types should be selected appropriately according to purpose; here, purpose‐specific refers to the degree of tailoring required to meet a specific single purpose, making it more challenging to adapt the review type for generic use. Examples include: scoping review, mapping review, methodological review, systematic search and review, systematized review, content synthesis, content analysis, policy review, technology assessment review.
Questions & Help
Undertaking a Systematic Review is a rewarding yet time consuming and intense endeavor. UNE Library Services’ Research & Teaching Librarians will gladly assist with search tips, database options, and helpful resources. However, at this time, there are not enough staff resources to provide a librarian as a member of a systematic review team.