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Systematic Review Service @ ECU: Systematic Reviews for the Medical Family Therapy Student


As part of your dissertation, you have the option to complete a systematic review. The information contained on the other pages of this guide will be extremely helpful, but there are some minor differences in the level of librarian assistance with systematic reviews for Medical Family Therapy students:

  1. You will construct the search yourself rather than having one of the Laupus librarians construct it; this is done so that you learn the search construction process and have full ownership of the final search
  2. You will run the searches across selected databases and upload the results of those searches to Covidence, rather than the librarian performing these processes
  3. Laupus Librarians will provide education and constructive feedback throughout the process--you're not doing this completely alone! A Laupus librarian will teach you how to construct and perform the searches and get you set up in Covidence. They will also provide feedback on search terms and database choices. Additionally, Laupus Librarians are always available to help answer any questions you might have about the process.

When you are ready to begin this process, please use our request system to alert the library that you are beginning a systematic review. Be sure to include that you're a MFT student and you will be assigned a librarian to teach you.

In addition to the information on the other pages of this guide, you will find some specific information relevant to the slightly modified process that you will undertake.

Tools and Resources

Special Information for MFT Students


  • Protocols are critically important to your success. They help you by requiring clarification of research question(s), inclusion and exclusion criteria, and screening methods. Protocols do not have to be completed before constructing a search, but having an initial rough draft is helpful as you approach search construction. You should have a complete protocol before you begin screening.
  • Screening requires a defined list of inclusion and exclusion criteria. Specifying inclusion/exclusion criteria is harder than might be anticipated.
  • PRISMA offers detailed information about protocols here.
  • You will need to register your protocol. Prospero is the gold standard; they do not accept student submissions but they are a good guide for what your protocol should look like. We recommend the Open Science Framework (though you could use something like TheScholarship, ECU's Institutional Repository.
  • Protocol registration should be done as soon as possible but it MUST be completed before data extraction begins.

Risk of Bias Assessment and Tools

  • The Appraisal in a Systematic Review page contains excellent information about why it is important to assess bias in systematic reviews.
  • It also contains a good list of tools for various types of studies.

Screening Your Results

  • Generally, a systematic review requires a team to conduct and you are strongly encouraged to find others to assist with the screening process. Master's students are generally a good option as are fellow doctoral candidates (though they may be in the midst of working on their own review and may not have as much time)
  • It is acceptable to conduct your Title and Abstract screening with just one person but you are required to have at least two people conduct the Full Text and Risk of Bias screenings.

Pain Points to be aware of in advance:

  • Creating the Search - Depending on the complexity of your question, this can take some time. A librarian can help you with this process.
  • Screening - This is a time sink. Plan to spend approximately 30 seconds on each article during Title and Abstract screening (if you have 12,000 articles, it will take roughly 6,000 minutes or 100 hours to screen them all). The more screeners you have the easier this is.
  • Data Extraction - This is one of the last parts of the review and occurs after full text screening is completed. The hard part is deciding what data you need to extract as well as analyzing it. 

Other Considerations:

  • Systematic reviews typically take a minimum of 1 year to complete.
  • If you are planning to publish your review, you want to make sure to document it according to PRISMA standards.
  • If you are using Covidence to help you in your screening, it has an excellent knowledgebase built into the program. They also have an extremely useful YouTube page.