University of New England - Innovation for a Healthier Planet

Research Help

Systematic Reviews

A systematic review seeks to answer a specific research question by analyzing and synthesizing previously published research.

There are a number of different types of reviews that evaluate research with varying degrees of rigor. What sets a systematic review apart is the use of pre-defined criteria and a rigorous, or systematic, search methodology to minimize bias and gather a large, relevant result set. Reproducibility and transparency in selecting, appraising, and analysis is key.

Systematized Review Assignments

Have you been assigned a systematic review as an assignment? Probably not. Systematic reviews are one of the highest levels of evidence. They take teams of researchers an average of 18 months, or 1139 hours, to complete. Systematized Reviews are more commonly assigned to students. A systematized review gives an initial assessment of a research topic and includes elements of the systematic review process, but falls short of the rigorous standards of a systematic review.

Not sure if a systematic review is what you want? Use the What Type of Review is Right for You decision tree and/or the Right Review website.

Process Overview and Tools

The systematic review process consists of distinct steps. There are specialized tools to help with each step as well as with the process as a whole.

1. Create a Team

Assemble a team with members who have expertise in the appropriate topic areas, systematic review methods, the literature search process, and quantitative analysis. Together with your team, investigate the best tools for managing your review process.

General Tools

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.

2. Research Question

Formulate a precise research question that fills an information gap and does not duplicate other efforts.

3. Protocol

A systematic review protocol describes the rationale, hypothesis, and planned methods of the review, and should be peer-reviewed and prepared before a review is started. It is recommended that you register your protocol so that it is made publicly available. The protocol should identify the reporting guidelines to be used such as PRISMA.

Protocol Tools

4. Literature Search

Develop and document a search strategy. Use research by subject to identify the best databases and other sources of research. See our Research Beyond the Basics and Search Strategy pages for general guidance.

Literature Search Tools

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.
Checklist for systematic review searches.

Sources for locating clinical trials include:


Citation management tools can help you keep your sources organized and can help you collaborate with others, insert formatted citations into your paper, and format your reference list. UNE provides access to RefWorks , but other options like EndnoteZotero, or Mendeley may also be helpful or integrate with review tools or software.

5. Screening

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.

6. Appraisal

Assess included studies for bias. This is called an appraisal, a risk of bias assessment, or a quality assessment.

Appraisal Tools

JBI 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.

7. Analysis

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.

Analysis Tools

Software for data extraction and statistical analysis.

8. Reporting

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.

Reporting Tools

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:

The EQUATOR Network
Reporting guidelines for health research by discipline with a searchable database.
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.

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. At this time we do not have the staff resources to provide a librarian as a member of a systematic review team.