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Systematic Reviews: Overview

This guide is for the clinician undertaking a systematic review.


“I need to do a systematic review.”  “I want a systematic review.

The refrain is increasingly common, but it’s not always clear what someone means by a systematic review. Before our reference librarians will start on a “systematic review” literature search, they will work with you to make sure that what you really need–and want–is a systematic review.

So, what is a systematic review?

In basic terms, a systematic review is a protocol-driven, comprehensive literature review, usually designed to answer a specific clinical question. Read more...

Review Types

Did you know there are multiple types of reviews? Literature/ Narrative Reviews and Systematic Reviews are the most common (see chart below to see their differences), but there is a growing number of other review types in order to help investigators answer their questions. Below is a list of a few of them:

For more information, click here and view Table 1 in this article.

Epidemic of flawed systematic reviews & meta-analyses

Before you embark on a systematic review or meta-analysis, read The mass production of redundant, misleading, and conflicted systematic reviews and meta-analyses by Stanford professor John Ionnaidis in Milbank Quarterly (2016). In an interview with Retraction Watch he spoke about the epidemic of deeply flawed meta-analyses.

Consider WHY you're doing  the systematic review and if you have the right tools and team to do a high-qualitybias-free, industry-freereproducible study.

Other articles to consider before embarking on a systematic review:

Explanatory Charts & Diagrams