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It's worth considering the following:
If you answered "No" to any of these, a traditional literature review (often called "narrative review") will be more appropriate.
Establish that a systematic review on your topic has not already been published. Two key databases to search for existing systematic reviews are Epistemonikos or the Cochrane Library.
What is a systematic review?
A systematic review requires a team – it cannot be completed by an individual.
You need to work with subject experts to clarify issues related to the topic; librarians to develop comprehensive search strategies and identify appropriate databases; reviewers to screen abstracts and read the full text; and/or a statistician who can assist with meta-analysis.
Cochrane is globally accepted as the standard for systematic reviews (SRs) and most publishers have the expectation that any SR will follow the Cochrane Reviewers handbook.
“A systematic review attempts to collate all empirical evidence that fits pre-specified eligibility criteria in order to answer a specific research question. It uses explicit, systematic methods that are selected with a view to minimizing bias, thus providing more reliable findings from which conclusions can be drawn and decisions made (Antman 1992; Oxman 1993).”
A systematic review usually takes 12-18 months and the key steps are:
For a visual overview of the tasks and stages see "The Systematic Review Process" - Yale University
Twelve tips for medical students to conduct a systematic review. Medical teacher 2019; 41(4): 471–475
A protocol is required to outline the methodology, rationale, and eligibility criteria. PRISMA-P was published in 2015 aiming to facilitate the development and reporting of systematic review protocols. There is an explanation and elaboration paper available and an operationalized checklist from BMC Systematic Reviews (Word, 35KB) enabling you to mark completed sections.
It is recommended that protocols are registered with PROSPERO. PROSPERO is the only open access prospective register of systematic reviews with a health related outcome. Registration is web-based, completely free to use and open to all researchers planning to conduct a systematic review.
PROSPERO can be a useful resource to search at the beginning of your research to establish what research is currently taking place in your field.
Search strategies for a systematic review need to include a combination of subject headings and text terms. A detailed search is usually established and tested in one database - often MEDLINE, depending on the nature of the question. Once the author team is satisfied that the search is sufficiently comprehensive and appropriate, the search strategy is then accurately “translated” across other relevant databases.
The number of results from each database search are noted for the PRISMA flow chart and then exported to reference management software such as EndNote. It is recommended that deduplication be done using EndNote.
Grey literature also needs to be searched to assist in removing publication bias. The Austin Librarians can recommend how to search for this material.
Screening occurs in a two-stage process according to pre-established inclusion and exclusion criteria. Austin Health has an organisational account for Covidence, a tool which can assist with these steps.
Quality assessment and data extraction involve transcribing information from the primary studies under review to a standard form or template that has been designed to capture all relevant details. Covidence includes customisable data extraction forms and automatically populates Risk of Bias tables. There are several options for appraising the evidence you will use in a SR:
Meta-analysis occurs at this stage if the included study data are sufficiently homogenous.
Prior to writing the review the database searches need to be updated to capture any new evidence.
1. Establish that a systematic review is the best method for answering your question
2. Search the databases Epistemonikos and Cochrane Library to ensure that a systematic review has not already been conducted on your topic
3. Check the Prospero database to establish if others have already registered their intention to conduct a review on your topic
4. Start drafting a protocol for your systematic review
5. Contact the Library for further assistance once you have a draft protocol written
The Library team will discuss the level of involvement you wish to have from an Austin Librarian and what capacity we currently have to assist you. The options will be to:
a) provide guidance and advice for you to create, run and manage the searches and review process yourself; or
b) we do more of the process on your behalf – namely we would design and manage complex searches in multiple databases ensuring that all best practice requirements for conducting a systematic review are met (aligning with the IOM standards for systematic reviews).
We provide an EndNote library of de-duplicated results ready for upload into Covidence, search strategies for your manuscript, narratives of the search methodology, and we will review the manuscript - with the expectation that we are included as a co-author.