“A systematic review attempts to collate all empirical evidence that fits pre-specified eligibility criteria in order to answer a specific research question [1].”


Research questions that are broader or do not have much empirical evidence on the topic might be better suited for other types of reviews.


The key characteristics of a systematic review are:

• a clearly defined set of objectives with inclusion and exclusion criteria for studies;

• an explicit and reproducible methodology;

• a rigorous and systematic search of the literature;

• an assessment of the validity of the findings of the included studies;

• data extraction and management; 

• an analysis and interpretation of results (possible meta-analysis);

• a report for publication.

Prior to undertaking a systematic review, state your aims and study design in your protocol to reduce the risk of bias that may arise if you were to formulate the inclusion criteria for studies after seeing the results of your literature search. You should also search for existing systematic reviews in the Cochrane Library, as well as for newly registered protocols in PROSPERO to ascertain that a new review is required and that no one is currently doing the research you wish to do.

Please be aware that a systematic review can't be done alone! You need to have at least one co-author to reduce potential author bias in the selection of studies and data extraction, and to help detect any errors. In addition, subject experts can help you to clarify issues related to your research question, librarians can develop comprehensive search strategies and identify appropriate databases, and statisticians can assist with data analysis.


How can Calder Library help?

Librarians can partner with you on systematic reviews and other types of review articles. If the systematic review road is right for your question, add us to your author team. We can design and manage complex, thorough searches in multiple databases for you. We can also provide you with:

• EndNote, RefWorks or Mendeley libraries of de-duplicated results;

• Detailed search strategies for each database;

• A written narrative of the search methodology for your publication.



1. Higgins JPT, Green S (editors). Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions Version 5.1.0 [updated March 2011]. The Cochrane Collaboration, 2011. Available from www.handbook.cochrane.org.

2. Petticrew M. Systematic reviews from astronomy to zoology: myths and misconceptions. BMJ : British Medical Journal. 2001;322(7278):98-101. (http://www.bmj.com/content/322/7278/98.1)