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Systematic Reviews

This is a guide to understanding systematic reviews and other evidence synthesis methods. Links to resources and information about the Libraries' Systematic Review Service is included.


Once you have decided what type of review best suits your research question, it is helpful to look to completed, high quality systematic reviews to compare. Other steps you will need to take are: 

  1. Choose who is on your research team (2+ people)
  2. Locate the appropriate guidelines for said review type
  3. Review the PRISMA checklist for said review type (a link to the PRISMA guidelines are on the left, under the "Protocol Agencies" tab)
  4. Complete a protocol. PROSPERO is a good and free Model (also linked on the left under "Protocol Agencies")
    - Your protocol needs to include the databases you will be searching, the study inclusion/exclusion criteria, etc.
  5. Check other registries (PROSPERO, Cochrane, etc.) to be sure no one else is doing this study
  6. Register your review
  7. As a research team, choose the citation manager you will use, if you will be using any abstract tracking software, and where you will be storing your shared documentation.

Set a Realistic Timeline

Conducting a systematic review takes a great deal of time and effort. 

In Systematic reviews in health care : a practical guide, Glasziou et. al. analyzed 37 meta-analyses and found that the average hours for a review were 1139 - about 30 person-weeks of full-time work. After breaking down the time into segments, they found that reviewers on average spent

  • 588 hours for protocol development, searching and retrieval;
  • 144 hours for statistical analysis;
  • 206 hours for report writing; and
  • 201 hours for administration

Glasziou, Paul, et al. Systematic Reviews in Health Care : A Practical Guide, Cambridge University Press, 2001. ProQuest Ebook Central,

While these hours are averaged from their included meta-analyses, they are good to keep in mind as you lay out your timeline for conducting a systematic review. 

A helpful way to visualize the process is through the image below. While created by researchers examining systematic reviews of randomized controlled trials, most of the tasks will apply to other systematic reviews as well. 

A flow chart detailing visually the steps required in conducting a systematic review. Of the 14 steps, many double back on each other and repeat.
Image source: Tsafnat, G., Glasziou, P., Choong, M.K. et al. Systematic review automation technologies. Syst Rev 3, 74 (2014).