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Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses: Tools

This guide is designed to help novice and experienced review teams navigate the systematic review and/or meta-analysis process

On this page, we cover some (but not all) of the tools that can be helpful when conducting evidence synthesis reviews, or other projects where you have to manage a large amount of literature.


Project Management Tools

General Process of an Evidence Synthesis Review

Each evidence synthesis review approach will vary according to methodology and scope. However, the procedure for finding, documenting, and processing potentially relevant material will likely be systematic and ideally reproducible. Based on the well-defined systematic review approach, the image below illustrates the transition from running a search in the database(s) to preparing for review. This involves two tool categories: Citation Managers and Review Managers.

Flowchart mapping the reference management process from translation of search strategy across multiple databases to setting up the project in a Review Management tool like Covidence. Steps: First translate and run the search strategy across all databases; Second, download all results from each database; Third, import all results into a citation manager; Fourth, upload the combined results into a review management software like Covidence. 

Review Management Tools

There are many review management tools to choose from. Considerations when choosing may include budget and the stages you hope to cover.  Note that you can use a combination of tools throughout the life of your review - for example, if you've used Covidence before but you are also looking for a qualitative analysis program, you might pair Covidence with another tool like NVivo or Atlas.ti.


Fee-Based

Covidence ($$)

(Free for VT affiliates and Cochrane Reviewers!) From the Cochrane website, "Covidence is one of Cochrane’s recommended tools to support you in some of the most labour-intensive stages of your systematic review. Covidence allows your team to upload search results, screen abstracts and full text, complete data collection, conduct risk of bias assessment, resolve disagreements and export data into RevMan or Excel."

Stages covered: Title & Abstract Screening, Full-Text Review, Critical Appraisal, Data Extraction


DistillerSR ($$$)

"DistillerSR automates the management of literature collection, screening, and assessment using AI and intelligent workflows. From a systematic literature review to a rapid review to a living review, DistillerSR makes any project simpler to manage and configure to produce transparent, audit-ready, and compliant results."

Stages covered: Searching (and direct download; limited), Title & Abstract Screening, Full-Text Review, Critical Appraisal, Data Extraction

Automated features available


EPPI-Reviewer ($)

"EPPI-Reviewer is an application for all types of literature review, including systematic reviews, meta-analyses, 'narrative' reviews and meta-ethnographies. It is suitable for small or large-scale reviews (with some of our existing reviews containing over a million items)."

Stages covered: Title & Abstract Screening, Full-Text Review, Critical Appraisal, Data Extraction, Qualitative Coding, some polished analysis outputs (e.g., evidence gap map)

Automated features available


SUMARI ($)

"JBI SUMARI (System for the Unified Management of the Assessment and Review of Information) is a software package designed to assist in the conduct of JBI systematic reviews. It is designed to assist researchers and practitioners in fields such as health, social sciences and humanities to conduct 10 different types of reviews including reviews of effectiveness, qualitative research, economic evaluations, prevalence/incidence, etiology/risk, mixed methods, umbrella/overviews, text/opinion, diagnostic test accuracy and scoping reviews."

Stages covered: Title & Abstract Screening, Full-Text Review, Critical Appraisal, Data Extraction, some polished analysis outputs, final manuscript write-up


Available for Free

RevMan 

"Review Manager (RevMan) is the software used for preparing and maintaining Cochrane Reviews. You can use RevMan for protocols and full reviews. It is most useful when you have formulated the question for the review, and allows you to prepare the text, build the tables showing the characteristics of studies and the comparisons in the review, and add study data. It can perform meta-analyses and present the results graphically."

Stages covered: Title & Abstract Screening, Full-Text Review, Critical Appraisal, Data Extraction


SDSR 

"In an effort to reduce the burden of conducting systematic reviews, researchers and developers at the Brown University Evidence-based Practice Center (EPC) (previously at Tufts Medical Center), with support from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), have developed a collaborative, Web-based repository of systematic review data. This resource serves as both an archive and data extraction tool and is shared among organizations and individuals producing systematic reviews worldwide, enabling the creation of a central database of systematic review data which may be critiqued, updated, and augmented on an ongoing basis. This database is freely accessible to facilitate evidence reviews and thus improve and speed up policy-making with regards to healthcare."

Stages covered: Title & Abstract Screening, Data Extraction


SR-Accelerator 

Developed by Bond University's Institute for Evidence-Based Healthcare, the SR-Accelerator is a series of popular free tools designed to enhance the speed and efficiency of several stages of the systematic review through semi-automation. Though intended for use in healthcare settings, many of the tools are easily transferrable across disciplines. Note: the search strategy translator, Polyglot, is currently limited to databases relevant to health research. These tools can compliment the use of other more comprehensive tools.

Stages covered: Search development, Screening, Citation chasing, Writing the methods section in final manuscript

Automated features available


SysRev

There are several living systematic review teams that have chosen to use the SysRev platform due to their focus on data curation. 

Stages covered: Title & Abstract Screening, Full-Text Review, Data Extraction

Automated features available with fee-based version

Covidence

Covidence is a web-based software that can help you manage your large reviews! With Covidence, researchers can:

  • easily upload and manage an unlimited amount references and full-text PDFs
  • customize screening, full-text review, critical appraisal, and abstraction protocol
  • have several reviewers perform screening, full-text review, critical appraisal, and data abstraction
  • collaboratively resolve disagreements among reviewers
  • export review data in plain text or to a reference manager

Covidence is compatible with EndNote, Zotero, Refworks, and Mendeley (e.g., reference managers that support RIS, CSV, or PubMedXML).


Sign up for Covidence

Sign up for Covidence with Virginia Tech's Institutional License - find instructions here!

If your team is not affiliated with Virginia Tech, you can still signup for an account with Covidence, but you will be limited to only one project


Start a new project in Covidence

​Once you are signed up with VT's institutional license, you will have the option to create your project under your own account or with the institutional license. Be sure to select the Virginia Tech - University Libraries option.

When setting up a project in Covidence, select the second account option for the question "Which account do you want to use?". This second option allows you to create a project under the Virginia Tech University Libraries institutional license. 


The Systematic Review Toolbox is a manually curated and maintained database of tools that can support each phase of an evidence synthesis review, specifically with systematic reviews in mind. This is a great place to explore if you are having trouble finding the best tool for your review or for a specific phase, or you are just looking for an updated list of resources.