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Systematic Reviews: FAQs

This guide is for the clinician undertaking a systematic review.




How long does a systematic review take?

A systematic review can take months to years to complete, but the average length is 18 months.

Who should I include on my systematic review team?

When conducting a systematic review, more than one author is required. Having two or more authors is preferable to reduce or avoid bias. In addition to an information specialist, such as a librarian, a multidisciplinary review team should include team members skilled in project management, writing, and editing. (Fretheim et al., 2006a) (Nielsen-Bohlman, 2004 #371). When conducting a meta-analysis, a statistician should be included on the systematic review team.

Is a meta-analysis and a systematic review the same thing?

The difference between a meta-analysis and a systematic review is that generally, systematic reviews answer very focused PICO-based questions. Systematic reviews have a protocol in place prior to the literature review beginning, including: the clinical question, specific inclusion and exclusion criteria, and methods for assessing bias. A meta-analysis can be considered a “study of studies” and includes methods of combining and analyzing the data.

What do I do if there is a systematic review already on my topic?

Consider the publication date. Depending on the publication date, you may want to use the existing systematic review as the starting point for your current research. If the publication is newer, you may want to revise your question. Consider the robustness of the review, as well as its methodology.

Can I do a systematic review if there is no literature on my topic?

No. Systematic reviews consist of researching and analyzing multiple publications and databases on a topic. If there is no literature on a topic, there is nothing to research or analyze.

I've already written my paper, can I do a systematic review now?

No. It is not possible to do a systematic review after you have written your paper because a systematic review is a systematic process that follows a precise process.


  • Fretheim A, Schünemann HJ, Oxman AD. Improving the use of research evidence in guideline development: 3. Group composition and consultation process. Health Research Policy and Systems. 2006;4:15. doi:10.1186/1478-4505-4-15.
  • Nielsen-Bohlman L, Institute of M, Committee on Health L. Health literacy : a prescription to end confusion. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press; 2004.

How Can We Help?

Librarians are standing by to help with your systematic review.  Here's how we can help:

  • Identify reviews
  • Assist with search strategies and inclusion/exclusion criteria
  • Help formulating your PICO question
  • Training on Endnote
  • Provide document management strategies
  • Provide content for how the search was conducted for the Methods section of your review