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Systematic Review

This guide aims to provide tools and resources that can be used for conducting a systematic review in medical and health sciences.

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. It aims to provide synthesized evidence to inform clinical decision making.

The Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions lists out the following characteristics of a systematic review:

  • a clearly stated set of objectives with pre-defined eligibility criteria for studies;
  • an explicit, reproducible methodology;
  • a systematic search that attempts to identify all studies that meet the eligibility criteria;
  • an assessment of the validity of the findings of the included studies, for example through the assessment of risk of bias; and
  • a systematic presentation, and synthesis, of the characteristics and findings of the included studies.

Steps to Conduct Systematic Review

  1. Assembling a team. The review should not be undertaken by one person.
  2. Planning a well-defined and focused research question (check to see if there are systematic reviews already published on your topic). 
  3. Developing inclusion and exclusion criteria.
  4. Adhering to SR standards and guidelines to improve the quality of your review.
  5. Planning a SR protocol.
  6. Constructing search strategies from your research question (test and refine the search strategies).
  7. Translating search strategies across library databases (each individual database requires the use of specialized search syntax).
  8. Running exhaustive search for studies and literatures from databases and grey literature.
  9. Exporting all citations to citation management or/and systematic review tool (such as Endnote, RefWorks, Covidence) for records de-duplicate and managing citations.
  10. Recording & Documenting the original numbers of citations found through databases and grey literature search and the numbers of citations after duplicates removed (PRISMA Flow Diagram).
  11. Screening citations by title/abstract according to the pre-defined inclusion/exclusion criteria in step 3 above.
  12. Screening citations by full text (record reasons for each excluded study).
  13. Evaluating the quality of the included studies i.e. critical appraisal.
  14. Performing data extraction for included studies.
  15. Synthesizing the results and interpreting the findings.
  16. Writing the review and getting it published.
  17. Updating searches if it's been more than 6 months and adding newly published studies.