Systematic Reviews & Meta-analyses: Get

Guidance on conducting systematic reviews and meta-analyses.


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Cozette Comer, Evidence Synthesis Librarian, Liaison Librarian: Statistics and Computational Modeling & Data Analytics,

Kiri DeBose, Head, Veterinary Medicine Library & Liaison to Animal Sciences,

Ginny Pannabecker, Liaison Librarian: Biochemistry, Biocomplexity Institute, Biological Sciences, Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics, Neuroscience, and Systems Biology; Director, RCE,

What is a Systematic Review

Across the Disciplines:

As seen in the definitions from this guide's home page, the systematic review and meta-analysis research study method is commonly used in health-related fields, with a primary purpose being to identify evidence-based best practices to facilitate decision making for patient care.

Engineering, Ecology, Education, and other disciplines find systematic reviews and meta-analyses attractive as well for their rigorous protocols and their purpose in providing evidence-based summaries to guide practical decision-making.

Background Research, Problem Definition, and Team Set Up

Getting started includes:

  • Develop a targeted answerable research question
  • Check for existing reviews
    • Search Prospero
    • Search key databases in the review topic field, limit to "systematic review" OR meta-analysis (either as a keyword search or limiter in the database)
  • Form a team- Who will be involved?
    • Ideally a minimum of 3 people, but think in terms of the number of citations that will be reviewed
    • Think of other areas of expertise to assist (statistician, librarian, etc.)
    • Odd numbers allow for tie-breakers for inclusion/exclusion decisions


Why do an SR? 

Consider how a systematic review study will address your research or practice goal/s?

Overall process of a Systematic Review

1. Develop a targeted answerable question

2. Determine no recent reviews have already been conducted

3. Agree on specific inclusion/exclusion criteria

4. Develop a system to organize data and notes, including a data management and archiving plan

5. Devise and document reproducible search methods

6. Launch and track an exhaustive search

7. Organize search results

8. Reproduce search results

9. Abstract data into a standardized format

10. Synthesize data using statistical methods (meta-analysis)

11. Write about what you found; make your supplementary files and data available via a repository