Systematic Reviews

Role of the librarian in this stage

A librarian can advise you on the process of organizing and writing up your systematic review, including: 

  • Applying the PRISMA reporting templates and the level of detail to include for each element
  • How to report a systematic review search strategy and your review methodology in the completed review
  • How to use prior published reviews to guide you in organizing your manuscript 

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Writing your review

Be sure to reference reporting standards when writing your review. This helps ensure that you communicate essential components of your methods, results, and conclusions. There are a number of tools that can be used to ensure compliance with reporting guidelines. A few review-writing resources are listed below.

PRISMA reporting templates

The PRISMA Checklist

The Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analysis (PRISMA) is a 27-item checklist used to improve transparency in systematic reviews. These items cover all aspects of the manuscript, including title, abstract, introduction, methods, results, discussion, and funding. The PRISMA checklist can be downloaded in PDF or Word files.

The PRISMA Flow Diagram

The PRISMA Flow Diagram visually depicts the flow of studies through each phase of the review process. The PRISMA Flow Diagram can be downloaded in both PDF and Word files.

PRISMA Checklist & Flow Diagram preview

PRISMA checklistDiagram depicting the systematic review process

Need help with PRISMA? For a step-by-step guide to the PRISMA Flow Diagram, visit the HSL PRISMA guide.

Additional PRISMA extensions

Review sections

Systematic reviews follow the same structure as original research articles. Sections of your manuscript are shown as bold headings in the PRISMA checklist.

Title Describe your manuscript and state whether it is a systematic review, meta-analysis, or both.
Abstract Structure the abstract and include (as applicable): background, objectives, data sources, study eligibility criteria, participants, interventions, quality assessment and synthesis methods, results, limitations, conclusions, implications of key findings, and systematic review registration number.
Introduction Describe the rationale for the review and provide a statement of questions being addressed.
Methods Include details regarding the protocol, eligibility criteria, databases searched, full search strategy of at least one database (often reported in appendix), and the study selection process. Describe how data were extracted and analyzed. If a librarian is part of your research team, that person may be best suited to write this section. 
Results Report the numbers of articles screened at each stage using a PRISMA diagram. Include information about included study characteristics, risk of bias (quality assessment) within studies, and results across studies.
Discussion Summarize main findings, including the strength of evidence and limitations of the review. Provide a general interpretation of the results and implications for future research.
Funding Describe any sources of funding for the systematic review.
Appendix Include entire search strategy for at least one database in the appendix (include search strategies for all databases searched for more transparency). 

Refer to the PRISMA checklist for more information.

Articles and guidelines on writing systematic reviews

Tools for evaluating systematic reviews