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Steps to conducting a systematic review
Quick overview of the process:
Consult these manuals frequently at every step of your review:
1. Identify your research question. Formulate a clear, well-defined research question of appropriate scope. Define your terminology. Find existing reviews on your topic to inform the development of your research question, identify gaps, and confirm that you are not duplicating the efforts of previous reviews. Consider using a framework like PICO or SPIDER to define you question scope. Use Database Search Log Excel spreadsheet to record search terms under each concept.
Optional: It is a good idea to register your protocol in a publicly accessible way. This will help avoid other people completing a review on your topic. Similarly, before you start doing a systematic review, it's worth checking the different registries that nobody else has already registered a protocol on the same topic.
Example outlining the details and documentation necessary for conducting a systematic review:
Hersi, M., Traversy, G., Thombs, B. D., Beck, A., Skidmore, B., Groulx, S., … Stevens, A. (2019). Effectiveness of stop smoking interventions among adults: protocol for an overview of systematic reviews and an updated systematic review. Systematic Reviews, 8(1), 28. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13643-018-0928-
|Inclusion/exclusion criteria template
|2. Define inclusion and exclusion criteria. Clearly state the criteria you will use to determine whether or not a study will be included in your search. Consider study populations, study design, intervention types, comparison groups, measured outcomes. Use some database-supplied limits such as language, dates, humans, female/male, age groups, and publication/study types (randomized controlled trials, etc.).
|Database search log template
|3. Search for studies. Run your searches in the databases that you've identified as relevant to your topic. Work with a librarian to help you design comprehensive search strategies across a variety of databases. Approach the grey literature methodically and purposefully. Collect ALL of the retrieved records from each search into a reference manager, such as Endnote, Zotero or Mendeley, and de-duplicate the library prior to screening. Report the searches using the PRISMA-S guidelines and CADTH Grey Matters.
|Rayyan - export your Endnote results in this screening software
|4. Select studies for inclusion based on pre-defined criteria. Start with a title/abstract screening to remove studies that are clearly not related to your topic. Use your inclusion/exclusion criteria to screen the full-text of studies. It is highly recommended that two independent reviewers screen all studies, resolving areas of disagreement by consensus.
|Review matrix template
|5. Extract data from included studies. Use a spreadsheet, or systematic review software (e.g. Rayyan, RevMan), to extract all relevant data from each included study. It is recommended that you pilot your data extraction tool, to determine if other fields should be included or existing fields clarified.
|Risk of Bias (Quality) Assessment - Repository of tools (download the Excel spreadsheet to see all data)
|6. Evaluate the risk of bias of included studies. Use a Risk of Bias tool (such as the Cochrane RoB Tool) to assess the potential biases of studies in regards to study design and other factors. Read the Cochrane training materials to learn about the topic of assessing risk of bias in included studies. You can adapt existing tools (PDF p.5) to best meet the needs of your review, depending on the types of studies included.
7. Present results and assess the quality of evidence. Clearly present your findings, including detailed methodology (such as search strategies used, selection criteria, etc.) such that your review can be easily updated in the future with new research findings. Perform a meta-analysis, if the studies allow. Provide recommendations for practice and policy-making if sufficient, high quality evidence exists, or future directions for research to fill existing gaps in knowledge or to strengthen the body of evidence.
For more information, see:
8. Find the best journal to publish your work. Identifying the best journal to submit your research to can be a difficult process. To help you make the choice of where to submit, simply insert your title and abstract in any of the journal finder tools listed under the Publishing your Systematic Review tab.
Adapted from A Guide to Conducting Systematic Reviews: Steps in a Systematic Review by Cornell University Library
This diagram illustrates in a visual way and in plain language what review authors actually do in the process of undertaking a systematic review.
This diagram illustrates what is actually in a published systematic review and gives examples from the relevant parts of a systematic review housed online on The Cochrane Library. It will help you to read or navigate a systematic review.
Check the following visual resources titled "What Are Systematic Reviews?"
P: Planning - the methods of the systematic review are generally decided before conducting it.