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Systematic Review

How the Library can help when you're conducting a systematic review

Introduction to systematic review

This guide will:

  • define the systematic review
  • outline our support for your systematic review
  • provide some tools for completing your review, including documenting your results.

What is a systematic review?

A systematic review is an authoritative account of existing evidence using reliable, objective, thorough and reproducible research practices.

It is a method of making sense of large bodies of information and contributes to the answers to questions about what works and what doesn't.

Systematic reviews map areas of uncertainty and identify where little or no relevant research has been done, but where new studies are needed.

It is a good idea to familiarise yourself with the systematic review process before beginning your review. You can do this by searching for other systematic reviews to look at as examples, by reading a glossary of commonly used terms, and by learning how to distinguish between types of systematic review.

Characteristics of a systematic review:

  • Clearly stated set of objectives with pre-defined eligibility criteria.
  • Explicit, reproducible methodology.
  • A systematic search that attempts to identify all studies that would meet the eligibility criteria.
  • Assesses the validity of the findings, for example assessing the risk of bias
  • Systematic presentation and synthesis of the findings of the included studies. (Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions, 2008, p. 6)

Systematic review vs literature review

Some of the ways a systematic review differs from a literature review are outlined below.

Systematic review Literature review
High-level overview of primary research on a focused question that identifies, selects, synthesises, and appraises all high-quality research evidence relevant to that question Qualitatively summarises evidence on a topic using informal or subjective methods to collect and interpret studies
Pre-specified eligibility or exclusion criteria Pre-specified exclusion criteria not necessary
Systematic search strategy Systematic search strategy not necessary
More than one author Commonly one author
Eliminating bias is a key intention Summarising literature on a topic is the key intention
Takes months to years to complete Takes weeks to months to complete

More information:

Kysh, Lynn (2013): Difference between a systematic review and a literature review. [figshare]

Cochrane Library video: what is a systematic review?

Systematic reviews help make sense of many kinds of data in a standardised, systematic way.

Watch this video from the Cochrane Library for more information about systematic reviews.

Video transcript

Library help

You can always ask us for help.

We can assist you with the searching component of your systematic review including:

  • identifying existing systematic reviews on your topic
  • recommending appropriate databases
  • reviewing and developing search strategies for finding resources on your topic 

For more in-depth information about the systematic review process, see: