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Systematic Reviews: Home

Created by Health Science Librarians

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What is a Systematic Review?

What is a Systematic Review?

A systematic review is a literature review that gathers all of the available evidence matching pre-specified eligibility criteria to answer a specific research question. It uses explicit, systematic methods, documented in a protocol, to minimize bias, provide reliable findings, and inform decision-making. ¹ 


There are many types of literature reviews.

Before beginning a systematic review, consider whether it is the best type of review for your question, goals, and resources. The table below compares a few different types of reviews to help you decide which is best for you. 

Comparing Systematic, Scoping, and Systematized Reviews
Systematic Review Scoping Review Systematized Review
Conducted for Publication Conducted for Publication Conducted for Assignment, Thesis, or (Possibly) Publication
Protocol Required Protocol Required No Protocol Required
Focused Research Question Broad Research Question Either
Focused Inclusion & Exclusion Criteria Broad Inclusion & Exclusion Criteria Either
Requires Large Team Requires Small Team Usually 1-2 People

A simplified process map

Systematic Reviews: A Simplified, Step-by-Step Process Map

Creative commons license applied to systematic reviews image requires that reusers give credit to the creator. It allows reusers to distribute, remix, adapt, and build upon the material in any medium or format, for noncommercial purposes only.  Systematic Reviews: a Simplified, Step-by-Step Process © 2021 by Emily P. Jones & Michelle Cawley is licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0.

How can the library help?

The average systematic review takes 1,168 hours to complete.¹ 
A librarian can help you speed up the process.

Systematic reviews follow established guidelines and best practices to produce high-quality research. Librarian involvement in systematic reviews is based on two levels. In Tier 1, your research team can consult with the librarian as needed. The librarian will answer questions and give you recommendations for tools to use. In Tier 2, the librarian will be an active member of your research team and co-author on your review. Roles and expectations of librarians vary based on the level of involvement desired. Examples of these differences are outlined in the table below.

Roles and expectations of librarians based on level of involvement desired.
Tasks Tier 1: Consultative Tier 2: Research Partner / Co-author
Topic Development
Guidance on process and steps Yes Yes
Background searching for past and upcoming reviews Yes Yes
Development of Eligibility Criteria
Development and/or refinement of review topic Yes Yes
Assistance with refinement of PICO (population, intervention(s), comparator(s), and key questions Yes Yes
Guidance on study types to include Yes Yes
Protocol Creation and Registration
Guidance on protocol registration Yes Yes
Identification of databases for searches Yes Yes
Instruction in search techniques and methods Yes Yes
Training in citation management software use for managing and sharing results Yes Yes
Development and execution of searches No Yes
Downloading search results to citation management software and removing duplicates No Yes
Documentation of search strategies No Yes
Management of search results No Yes
Study Selection and Extraction
Guidance on methods Yes Yes
Guidance on data extraction, and management techniques and software Yes Yes
Writing and Publishing
Suggestions of journals to target for publication Yes Yes
Drafting of literature search description in "Methods" section No Yes
Creation of PRISMA diagram No Yes
Drafting of literature search appendix No Yes
Review other manuscript sections and final draft No Yes
Librarian contributions warrant co-authorship No Yes

Publications by HSL Librarians

The following are systematic and scoping reviews co-authored by HSL librarians.

Only the most recent 15 results are listed. Click the website link at the bottom of the list to see all reviews co-authored by HSL librarians in PubMed

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Systematic reviews in non-health disciplines

Researchers conduct systematic reviews in a variety of disciplines.  If your focus is on a topic outside of the health sciences, you may want to also consult the resources below to learn how systematic reviews may vary in your field.  You can also contact a librarian for your discipline with questions.


Environmental Topics

Social Sciences

Social Work

Software engineering

Sport, Exercise, & Nutrition

Resources for performing systematic reviews

Updating reviews