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Systematic Review

What is a systematic review?

A systematic review is commonly characterised by:

  • A well-defined research question
  • Transparent search terms and database selection
  • Exclusion/inclusion criteria with evaluation of search findings
  • A research project structure with elements such as Introduction, Method, Result, Discussion

A systematic review is considered secondary research because it uses research by others and does not involve a new research project that you are conducting yourself.

Video: Conducting a systematic literature review (3.17 mins). A quick overview and comparison with traditional literature reviews.

How is it different from a traditional literature review?

The purpose of systematic review is different from that of a traditional literature review.

Traditional (narrative) literature review

Systematic review

  • Reviews past research to identify gaps or discrepancies and establish need for new research
  • Provides a foundation that the researcher uses to position their own new research
  • Uses best available evidence in a body of literature to arrive at a conclusion 
  • Provides a foundation from which the researcher(s) can make recommendations

A systematic review further

  • involves a clearly articulated search process and selection criteria of the literature which is closely examined before being included in the review.
  • uses a search and selection procedure that is transparent and can be replicated. 

In a traditional literature review, the researcher

  • selects and examines studies related to the research topic.
  • does not have to make visible the search and selection process and criteria.

See for more details a comparison for both types of review in this PDF:

Types of systematic reviews

There are four common types of reviews using systematic methods:

  • Systematic reviews
  • Rapid reviews
  • Scoping reviews
  • Integrative reviews
Systematic review Rapid review Scoping review Integrative review
  • Uses best available evidence from a broad range of databases to arrive at a conclusion related to a specific problem or intervention
  • Provides a foundation from which the researcher(s) can make recommendations for theory and practice
  • Uses best available evidence from a narrow span of data bases to establish what is known about a problem, policy or practice
  • Presents evidence-based summaries to advice stakeholders
  • Commonly uses a wide range of sources to establish scope, nature and characteristics of a topic or emerging research field, not yet fully reviewed, or which is complex/varied in nature
  • Often provides a preparative review of the nature and extent of research evidence and gaps in knowledge
  • Uses a variety of methodological, empirical and theoretical studies
  • Provides a detailed understanding of an issue or phenomenon to indicate any gaps in knowledge, develop theory, and inform policy or practice

For a more detailed comparison, see this PDF:

A common feature of these reviews is the goal of reducing bias in the search and selection of studies.

This bias mainly refers to:

  • Availability of resources
  • Researcher’s degree of objectivity
  • Degree of similarity in type and content of research

A common strategy for reducing bias:

  • Extended time to perform a thorough search in published and ‘yet to be published’ articles
  • Two or more reviewers following transparent processes of conducting searches and making selections
  • Homogeneity of selected research articles

 

References:

Centre for Evidence Synthesis in Health. (2018, January 4). The steps of a systematic review [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-FQSsnaAtOU

Librarian Carrie Price. (2021, May 18). Systematic vs scoping review: What’s the difference [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YVckIl8_ZCg

Munn, Z., Peters, M. D. J., Stern, C., Tufanaru, C., McArthur, A., & Aromataris, E. (2018). Systematic review or scoping review? Guidance for authors when choosing between a systematic or scoping review approach. BMC Medical Research Methodology, 18, Article 143. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12874-018-0611-x

Pringle, J., Mills, K., McAteer, J., Jepson, R., Hogg, E., Anand, N., & Blakemore, S. J. (2016). A systematic review of adolescent physiological development and its relationship with health-related behaviour: A protocol. Systematic Reviews, 5, Article 3. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13643-015-0173-5

Temple University Library (2021, June 11). Systematic reviews & other review types. Retrieved July 8, 2021, from https://guides.temple.edu/c.php?g=78618&p=3879604

Steps in a systematic review

Planning Searching for existing Formulating the review question Develop a protocol Systematic literature searching Search strategy Search databases Download citations to ref manager Appraisal & synthesis Select studies Extract data Synthesise data Report findings Writing the review Publishing the reveiw

Bettany-Saltikov, J. (2016). How to do a systematic literature review in nursing: A step-by-step guide (2nd ed.). Open University Press.

Cranwell, M. (2021). A mixed-methods systematic review of transitions for caregivers of people living with dementia. SAGE. 

Muka, T., Glisic, M., Milic, J., Verhoog, S., Bohlius, J. Bramer, W., Chowdhury, R., & Franco, O. H(2020). A 24-step guide on how to design, conduct, and successfully publish a systematic review and meta-analysis in medical research. European Journal of Epidemiology, 35, 49–60. https://doi,org/10.1007/s10654-019-00576-5

Gough, D., Oliver, S., & Thomas, J. (Eds.). (2017). An introduction to systematic reviews (2nd ed.). SAGE. 

Gough, D., Oliver, S., & Thomas, J. (Eds.). (2018). Systematic reviews and research. SAGE. 

Biondi-Zoccai, G. (Ed.). (2016). Umbrella reviews: Evidence synthesis with overviews of reviews and meta-epidemiologic studies. Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-25655-9 

Holly, C., Salmond, S., & Saimbert, M. (2021). Comprehensive Systematic Review for Advanced Practice Nursing (3rd ed.). Springer. 

Higgins, J. P. T., Thomas, J., Chandler, J., Cumpston, M., Li, T., Page, M. J., & Welch, V. A. (Eds). (2021). Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions version 6.2. Cochrane. https://training.cochrane.org/handbook

Petticrew, M., & Roberts, H. (2006). Systematic reviews in the social sciences: A practical guide. John Wiley & Sons. 

Tawfik, G. M., Dila, K. A. S., Mohamed, M. Y. F., Tam, D. N. H., Kien, N. D., Ahmed, A. M., & Huy, N. T. (2019). A step by step guide for conducting a systematic review and meta-analysis with simulation data. Tropical Medicine Health, 47, Article 46. https://doi.org/10.1186/s41182-019-0165-6

Tod, D. (2019). Conducting systematic reviews in sport, exercise, and physical activity. Palgrave Macmillan. 

Toronto, C. E., & Remington, R. (Eds.). (2020). A step-by-step guide to conducting an integrative review. Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-37504-1

 Zawacki-Richter, O., Kerres, M., Bedenlier, S., Bond, M., & Buntins, K. (Eds.). (2020). Systematic Reviews in Educational Research: Methodology, Perspectives and Application. Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-658-27602-7