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Systematic Review Service @ ECU: Systematic Review Process

General steps in a systematic review

1. Select the team (*remember to involve a librarian at this stage*).

  • Systematic reviews cannot be performed by just one person. The screening process requires a minimum of two people familiar with the subject matter, and a third reviewer is often involved in resolving conflicting decisions later in the review process.

2. Define the review question and eligibility inclusion/exclusion criteria.(*librarian contribution*)

  • In order to feasibly compare and synthesize the results of included studies, a narrowly defined question is more appropriate.

3. Identify all potentially eligible studies.(*librarian contribution*)

  • Systematic review search strategies are critically important; given that studies are the subjects of a systematic reviews, the search strategy used to identify studies can be considered equivalent to human subjects recruitment methods in terms of its critical importance in determining the representativeness of the sample and guarding against biased selection.

4. Register the protocol prior to screening studies

  • Protocols serve:
    • to avoid duplication of multiple reviews addressing the same question.
    • to establish a review and allow editorial referees to provide guidance and advice throughout the process
    • to help the review process remain systematic, unbiased and well-defined.
    • to help ensure your chance of publication. An increasing number of journals recommend or require that a protocol have been registered.
  • Protocols may be registered at:
    • PROSPERO - international prospective register of systematic reviews in health and social care. One major purpose of PROSPERO is to reduce duplication of reviews, and promote efficient use of resources. 
    • Cochrane Collaboration - international organization, produces and disseminates systematic reviews of health care interventions.
    • Campbell Collaboration - produces systematic reviews of the effects of social interventions

5. Apply the pre-specified eligibility criteria to select studies for inclusion and keep track of the data. 

  • The screening process occurs in two phases: an initial screening of titles and abstracts, followed by reviewing the full text of articles that were included during the title/abstract screen.

6. Assess the methodology of studies to determine risk of bias.

  • Many tools for risk of bias assessment exist. For assistance in locating an appropriate risk of bias assessment tool, please work with the librarian.
  • *Keep in mind that for systematic reviews, risk of bias assessment addresses the methodological quality of your included studies; this is not to be confused with publication bias, which may be a second, pooled assessment of bias, particularly for meta-analyses.

7. Analyze the data and begin your meta-analysis of the included studies.

8. Address any reporting bias that may exist.

9. Prepare a structured report of the research. (*librarian contribution to the methods section*)

  • The required elements of a systematic review or systematic review and meta-analysis vary slightly with the standards you use, but a commonly used standard is the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA). PRISMA provides a checklist that can help you structure the report and ensure you have reported the required elements.

10. Interpret the results to make conclusions and/or recommendations.

11. Keep up with new articles on your topic published after the initial search and undertake publishing. (*librarian partial contribution*)

  • If it has been more than six months since the initial, full search across all identified databases, it may be necessary to rerun the searches to capture all research published since the initial search.