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Review Types: Systematic Reviews

This guide provides information and resources on the types of research as well as supporting works including literature reviews.

Introduction to Systematic Reviews

A systematic review is a comprehensive review of primary research on a specific research question in order to compile and analyze all relevant evidence. It reveals validity of data, study methods, and funding sources of research.

Books on Systematic Reviews

Searching for Studies

The Steps of a Systematic Review

First, determine that your research is at the stage to conduct a systematic review before starting the Systematic Review process. You will also need to assemble your team. Consult the PRISMA 2020 checklist for more detailed steps.

  1. Check for existing and ongoing systematic reviews on the topic. See the Find Systematic Reviews box on the left for places to search.
  2. Prepare your topic - fully describe the topic, type of question, inclusion/exclusion criteria, and methodologies.
  3. Create a protocol - select appropriate registry and register protocol.
  4. Design a search strategy - outline keywords, controlled vocabulary, subject categories, and facets to find studies for the review. You may want to consult a librarian at this time for help or to review your search strategy.
  5. Search for studies - use the library's databases and consult a librarian for resources available on your topic. Search multiple databases, follow research institution's instructions (e.g. Cochrane or JBI). Include grey literature.
  6. Document search results in your PRISMA flow diagram.
  7. Screen the studies - team members will need to review all studies for inclusion: first do title abstract screening with 2+ independent reviewers, then a full-text screen of selected studies with 2+ reviewers.
  8. Extract and prepare data.
  9. Analyze and synthesize the evidence.
  10. Report findings.

General overview of the Steps of a Systematic Review video by Center for Evidence Synthesis in Health

Types of Systematic Reviews

Effectiveness Reviews - A Synthesis of quantitative evidence to analyze the effectiveness of a treatment.

Diagnostic Test Accuracy Review - Evaluates the quality of published studies to provide a summary of test performance

Etiology and Risk Review - An assessment of the relationship between certain factors and the development of a disease or condition or other health outcome.

Costs/Economic Evidence Review - A review of evidence from economic evaluations that addresses a question or questions about the cost-effectiveness of a health intervention.

Prevalence or Incidence Review - Summarizes epidemiological studies to assess the prevalence or incidence of a clinical condition.

Mixed Methods Review - A synthesis of quantitative and qualitative data.

Qualitative Evidence Reviews - A synthesis of qualitative evidence from interviews, observations, focus groups, and field work where studies are conducted in a subject's natural setting in order to inform healthcare decision-making.

Umbrella Review - A systematic review of systematic review. Includes a broad range of reviews conducted for potential interventions to establish pros and cons and potential outcomes of each treatment.

Meta-Synthesis - To formulate a new interpretation of the research field by bringing together qualitative data. It primarily generates theories for programs, implementation, or interventions. 

Rapid Reviews - A form of synthesizing evidence in a shorter time period than other Systematic Review types. Typically done in a short time frame and omits stages from the rigorous Systematic Review process.