Systematic Reviews

A brief guide to conducting and reporting systematic reviews.

What is a systematic review?

Systematic reviews seek to find, appraise, and analyze all relevant studies to answer a focused question, often relating to intervention efficacy. The goal of a systematic review is to synthesize evidence without bias.

Since systematic reviews require such a stringent and diligent process to complete, systematic reviews are often noted as one of the highest forms of evidence in evidence-based practice. 

Systematic reviews are more than just a comprehensive literature search and require a heavy time investment (several months at least) to complete correctly. 

Depending on the specificity of your question and available time/resources, a systematic review may not be the right choice for your project. In that case, there are approximately fourteen (14) types of reviews (scoping, mapping, rapid, umbrella, etc.) that vary in methodology, scope, and level of effort.

Schedule a consultation with a librarian if you would like assistance selecting a review and methodology best suited for your research question.

What does a systematic review process look like?

One easy way to remember the systematic review process is with the acronym PIECES (Foster & Jewell, 2017).

P PLAN

The key to conducting a systematic review is effective planning.

  • Clearly define your research question
  • Register your protocol (recommended, not required)
  • Define eligibility criteria for studies to be included in the review
  • Define exclusion criteria for studies that are not to be included in the review
  • Select a software for project management
  • Select a software for citation management / conducting the review

If working in a team, the planning stage is where roles are defined, tasks are delegated, and workflows are defined.

I IDENTIFY

Search published and unpublished (grey) literature using all relevant databases and document search strategies.

E EVALUATE

Evaluate studies for relevance, methodology, and bias.

C COLLECT / CODE Code studies and extract data 
E EXPLAIN Synthesize the results from studies included in the review. 
S SUMMARIZE (REPORT)

Present conclusions and submit final report with supporting documentation.

Foster, M., & Jewell, S. (2017). Assembling the pieces of a systematic review : Guide for librarians (Medical Library Association books). Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield.

Image source: Plüddemann AAronson JKOnakpoya I, et al Redefining rapid reviews: a flexible framework for restricted systematic reviews 

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