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Master of Public Health Resources: Pro-Paper Systematized Review Resources

Research Guide for MPH students

Tips for Systematized Review

A high level literature review requires adherence to a strict methodology to search, select and appraise research from multiple studies after which data is extracted to form a conclusion.  While not technically a systematic review, which requires a team of researchers to screen studies and a risk of bias assessment, an MPH Pro-paper can take the form of a systematized review, which has a shorter timeline to completion, only searches one database and only requires one person to screen articles. The systematized review follows a similar approach to systematically gathering and screening relevant articles as systematic review.

The following resources can help when developing your methods section on developing your search strategy and screening articles for your pro-paper.

Librarian Assistance for Pro-Papers Process Diagram 

Overview of Systematized Review Process

  1. Determine topic of interest--the question and scope of the review (can begin writing intro)
  2. Perform some preliminary searches to confirm feasibility of topic
  3. Work on methods as you determine the inclusion/exclusion criteria for studies and how you will perform you lit review* 
  4. Develop a comprehensive search strategy in a database* 
    • purpose of comprehensive search is to try and find all published research on your topic
  5. Screen results of of search results according to inclusion/exclusion criteria in 2 stages**
    • comprehensive searches are broader so irrelevant results are retrieved that has to be screened out
  6. Extract information from included studies to synthesize and draw conclusions across studies
    • You will create a summary table of included studies with the information you extract from the studies
  7. Complete the results/discussion based on synthesis

*Librarian can help/advise 

**Librarian can provide tools 

Tips for Pro-Paper Methods

Cochrane Handbook

While the Cochrane Handbook of Systematic Reviews describes the required steps and methodology for a systematic review, its tips on determining the scope of your project and inclusion/exclusion criteria can help you with your systematized review. Check out the Ch 2 overview of methods for help on starting and conducting your pro-paper systematized review. 

PRISMA Checklist

While the PRISMA checklist was developed for Systematic Reviews, your pro-paper methods section should most of the required information for the methods section of the checklist for systematic reviews, though some required information will not be needed in your systematized review. Most of the information required according to the checklist in the results and discussion of a systematic review should also be included in your pro-paper, though there are a couple items in the checklist you can ignore.

You can ignore including items crossed out in red in the linked document. 

Additional Tips/PROSPERO

If you are struggling to write your methods section for your pro-paper,  see if you can find a systematic review related to your topic and look at the Methods section of the paper for some ideas on how do develop and describe your search and screening methodology.

You can also check out a systematic review protocol registry PROSPERO to see how your proposal might be written.


Before starting your systematized review, you should try and create inclusion and exclusion criteria

  • Inclusion criteria is everything that a study must have in order to be included in your review.
  • Exclusion criteria are the factors that would make a study ineligible to be included in your review.                                                             
  • These criteria can include dates, how a study was designed, population, outcomes, etc.

Search Strategy

Searching for Evidence

Reach out to your liaison librarian for tips on creating a well structured search strategy. You should perform a systematic search that tries to gather all of the relevant evidence on your topics. 

You  may want to search some other databases as well, but your most likely database to start your search is PubMed.

Managing Citations

It is useful to use a citation manager like Refworks, Mendeley or EndNote to manage the citations from your search results. After you perform your search, export your search results and upload the file into your preferred citation manager. ECU gives you access to RefWorks, but Mendeley is a free citation management software and you may have EndNote from a previous institution

Screening Tools

Your systematized review should go through a two phase screening process after you perform your systematic search for articles on your topic. The first phase is a Title/Abstract screening where you check if the article seems to be on your topic according to your inclusion/exclusion criteria. The second phase if a Full Text where you confirm if the article is focused on your topic. It is useful to use a screening software tool, and a free tool to help with this step is Rayyan, linked below. You can also reach out to your liaison librarians to gain access to the screening software tool Covidence. 

Synthesis/Data Extraction

Considerations for Data Extraction

To synthesize the research from multiple studies, you need to extract data from the studies and combine it. You should try and determine the information you want to extract from the studies from the start, so you only include studies that contain the data you are looking for. 

Your can report your synthesis in a narrative form or if you extract quantitative data, you can present the synthesis in charts, graphs or tables.

Suggestion for Data Extraction from Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions

Check out the attached table/use the link to see a checklist of items to consider when extracting information for your systematized review

Table 5.3.a Checklist of items to consider in data collection ( 

Li T, Higgins JPT, Deeks JJ (editors). Chapter 5: Collecting data. In: Higgins JPT, Thomas J, Chandler J, Cumpston M, Li T, Page MJ, Welch VA (editors). Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions version 6.4 (updated August 2023). Cochrane, 2023. Available from  

Liaison Librarian

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Heidi Reis
Office: 2528 Health Sciences Building
Phone: 252-744-3222

Liaison Librarian for BSOM

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Soph Myers-Kelley