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Systematic Reviews

About This Guide

This guide is intended as a general overview of the systematic review process.  It is not specific to a discipline such as health sciences.  Rather the intention of the Guide is to be informative and provide quality links to resources relevant to learning how to conduct a systematic review.


What You Need

Time (18 months, average)

The average systematic review requires 18 months of work. “…to find out about a healthcare intervention it is worth searching research literature thoroughly to see if the answer is already known. This may require considerable work over many months…” (Cochrane Collaboration)

Team Members (at minimum)

  • Content expert
  • 2 reviewers
  • 1 tie breaker
  • 1 statistician (meta-analysis)
  • *1 information professional (librarian trained in systematic reviews)

Searching (Your Data Collection)

What is searched depends on the topic of the review but should include:

  • At least 3 standard medical databases like PubMed/MEDLINE, CINAHL, EMBASE, etc
  • At least 2 grey literature resources like, SIGLE, ProQuest Dissertations & Theses, etc

Citation Management System

You will need a citation management system like EndNote to deal with the large number of citations that you will be handling. Endnote is available for purchase at a discount through the U of C Medical Bookstore.

Full Text Articles

Your librarian is not the appropriate person to obtain the full text of articles. It is a fairly straight forward, though time consuming, task that we can show you or someone on your team how to do.

We Can Help

Librarians are experts for data collection in systematic reviews.

Institute of Medicine (IOM) standard (3.1.1) for systematic reviews states: work with a librarian or other information specialist trained in performing systematic reviews to plan the search strategy. 

Librarians can help you as:


  • Set up a meeting to discuss systematic review before undertaking
  • Recommend and rank research databases, research and clinical trial registries, and internet search engines for their likely yield of relevant studies and documents for the research question(s).
  • Provide advice to the person(s) conducting the search(es)
  • Make suggestions to researcher for keeping detailed records of search results and search strategies, so that these can be documented in final review report / article


  • Assist with articulating the specific research question for the systematic review
  • Conduct the literature search in accordance with best practice literature search standards
  • Help identify the key concepts that make up the question and start to identify words that can be used to search for those concepts
  • Conduct a preliminary search for existing systematic reviews on the topic and if a recent similar review is identified discuss whether there is a need for another
  • Identify related systematic reviews with well reported search to use as a source of relevant search strategies
  • Discuss and select appropriate databases and other potential sources of information
  • Work iteratively with the research team to develop a search strategy that achieves a comprehensive retrieval focused on the research question
  • Help identify inclusion and exclusion criteria that may need to be included in the search, for example, should the search be focused on particular research study designs?
  • Help identify inclusion and exclusion criteria that will be used by the researchers to filter search results
  • Translate the search strategy as appropriate  for each database and conduct  all searches
  • Keep detailed records of search results and search strategies, so that these can be documented in final review report / article
  • Write up the Search Strategy portion of the Methods section of the review in compliance with best practice literature search reporting standards.
  • Review the Flow Diagram (i.e., Figure 1) of the review report for completeness and accuracy
  • Review the final draft of the article for clarity and readability (as a non-content-expert reader)

*International Committee of Medical Journal Editors

Guide Content

The content in this guide is adapted from: