Literature Review: Systematic literature reviews
- Traditional or narrative literature reviews
- Scoping Reviews
- Systematic literature reviews
- Annotated bibliography
- Keeping up to date with literature
- Finding a thesis
- Evaluating sources and critical appraisal of literature
- Managing and analysing your literature
- Further reading and resources
Systematic and systematic-like reviews
Charles Sturt University library has produced a comprehensive guide for Systematic and systematic-like literature reviews. A comprehensive systematic literature review can often take a team of people up to a year to complete. This guide provides an overview of the steps required for systematic reviews:
- Identify your research question
- Develop your protocol
- Conduct systematic searches (including the search strategy, text mining, choosing databases, documenting and reviewing
- Critical appraisal
- Data extraction and synthesis
- Writing and publishing .
- Systematic and systematic-like reviews Library Resource Guide
Systematic literature review
A systematic literature review (SLR) identifies, selects and critically appraises research in order to answer a clearly formulated question (Dewey, A. & Drahota, A. 2016). The systematic review should follow a clearly defined protocol or plan where the criteria is clearly stated before the review is conducted. It is a comprehensive, transparent search conducted over multiple databases and grey literature that can be replicated and reproduced by other researchers. It involves planning a well thought out search strategy which has a specific focus or answers a defined question. The review identifies the type of information searched, critiqued and reported within known timeframes. The search terms, search strategies (including database names, platforms, dates of search) and limits all need to be included in the review.
Pittway (2008) outlines seven key principles behind systematic literature reviews
Systematic literature reviews originated in medicine and are linked to evidence based practice. According to Grant & Booth (p 91, 2009) "the expansion in evidence-based practice has lead to an increasing variety of review types". They compare and contrast 14 review types, listing the strengths and weaknesses of each review.
Tranfield et al (2003) discusses the origins of the evidence-based approach to undertaking a literature review and its application to other disciplines including management and science.
References and additional resources
Dewey, A. & Drahota, A. (2016) Introduction to systematic reviews: online learning module Cochrane Training https://training.cochrane.org/interactivelearning/module-1-introduction-conducting-systematic-reviews
Gough, David A., David Gough, Sandy Oliver, and James Thomas. An Introduction to Systematic Reviews. Systematic Reviews. London: SAGE, 2012.
Grant, M. J. & Booth, A. (2009) A typology of reviews: An analysis of 14 review types and associated methodologies. Health Information & Libraries Journal 26(2), 91-108
Munn, Z., Peters, M. D. J., Stern, C., Tufanaru, C., McArthur, A., & Aromataris, E. (2018). Systematic review or scoping review? Guidance for authors when choosing between a systematic or scoping review approach. BMC Med Res Methodol, 18(1), 143. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12874-018-0611-x
Pittway, L. (2008) Systematic literature reviews. In Thorpe, R. & Holt, R. The SAGE dictionary of qualitative management research. SAGE Publications Ltd doi:10.4135/9780857020109
Tranfield, D., Denyer, D & Smart, P. (2003) Towards a methodology for developing evidence-informed management knowledge by means of systematic review . British Journal of Management 14 (3), 207-222
Evidence based practice - an introduction : Literature reviews/systematic reviews
Evidence based practice - an introduction is a library guide produced at CSU Library for undergraduates. The information contained in the guide is also relevant for post graduate study and will help you to understand the types of research and levels of evidence required to conduct evidence based research.
- Evidence based practice an introduction
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- Last Updated: Jan 24, 2023 11:45 AM
- URL: https://libguides.csu.edu.au/review
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- Staff portal
Systematic style literature reviews for education and social sciences
- Different types of literature review
- Developing the research question
- Search strategies
- Recording your systematic searching
- Systematic reading of the literature
- Writing your systematic literature review
- Software tools
- Citing your sources
Overview of Systematic-style Literature Reviews
This is a guideline for writing a systematic qualitative or quantitative literature review chapter. S ystematic literature reviews concentrate most of the writing in describing the methods used to collect, analyse and present the literature, so it is a good place to start. As with all academic work, remember that all of your material should be referenced and permission to reproduce charts and images obtained.
Before you start:-
- Speak with your supervisor to ensure that their requirements are met and that specific elements of your literature review and research are covered.
- If you are writing a journal article, then you should check the journal author guidelines before you start the writing process.
If you would like to know more about systematic reviews, please see the introduction to this guide .
If you are writing a systemic review for health please use the information on the Systematic-style Reviews page.
When to use a quantitative writing approach
If you are writing a scoping review, systematic quantitative, integrative, iterative, rapid, umbrella, meta-analysis or meta-synthesis then use the quantitative approach to writing the literature review. As these methods have different approaches and are applied to different discipline areas, you may need to combine it with a qualitative style literature review.
For Health research, like Cochrane Reviews or Campbell Collaborations, then use the information on the Systematic-style Reviews page. For narrative literature reviews please use the Griffith Graduate Research Guide or the Library Writing Guide .
Quantitative style literature review
- Results & Analysis
- Results & Analysis Structure:
- Inserting Journal Articles
- Useful Resources
Outline: Systematic Quantitative Literature Review Chapter
The following is a simple pattern to follow for writing your systematic quantitative literature review. Specific sections are detailed in each tab. As with all academic work, remember that all material should be referenced and permission to reproduce charts and images obtained.
Introduction ( 15-20% of your total available word count )
Insert Journal A rticle (75 - 80% of word count)
*If you are embedding an article then it would replace the remaining sections and you would include a chapter conclusion
Methods ( 15 – 2 5 % of word count)
Results & Analysis (these can be separate chapters or sections) 2 0 - 25 %
Discussion (20% of word count)
Conclusion (3 – 5% of word count)
When writing your quantitative literature review it i s easier to start with the methods and then the introduction .
S tate the topic for review , the type of systematic review you are undertaking; quantitative or qualitative , weighted, meta - analysis or meta- synth esis and include whether this is a new or updated review .
Describe the hypothesis, theory or problem being tested and identify the aims of the review
State the research questions and expected outcome
Explain the significance of the review to your discipline and audience
Define terms you are using, including debates and agreements about the terminology
Describe the research frontiers or state of the field being research ed
Describe how you have grouped the literature in terms of theory, topics, chronology, methodology, or findings and order you have placed your main sections of writing in
This section is crucial because it provides a full , transparent explanation o f the research method by using summari es and descri ptions of the protocol s used to find , filter, analyse and quality test the literature . This is important as it provides a way for you to describe how comprehensive your review was. It also provides future researchers with a way to reproduce an update d literature review for the same topic . It may not be needed in your final submitted thesis but may be used to inform future journal articles .
Name the t ype of literature review , research topic and aims.
State time frames if they are relevant
State any guidelines or the reporting framework you have used e.g., Prisma , AMSTAR
Indicate the process for developing your research question , e.g., pico , spider
If your review is repeating an existing protocol, updat ing a review protocol or is a new protocol
The logical order that you have placed your writing in
Describe t he system you used to find and collect the literature . Use tables or diagrams for data and refer to them from the text. If they are too large to place in the text, place in appendices and refer to the appendix.
If you have regist e r ed the protocols of the review (PROSPERO) , provide the details
Relevant search strings, key terms, filters, and refinements you used
T ools you used, where you searched, and which databases or search engines you us ed
Explain your i nclusion and exclusion criteria, key themes you were reading for , or changes in criteria
*if this is an updated review, describe revisions made to the protocol, why they were made and the effect.
O utline the number of documents found and then kept
Explain t he system used to critically appraise articles you used from your literature search
H ow you assessed quality of literature, for e.g., primary studies or transparency of data
Categories or variables you used to compare content across the literature for e.g., costs, outcomes, drug concentrations
Whether any articles were subsequently excluded from your review and the reason for exclusion
Explain subsequent add itions or updates after the initial search
Articulate any bias in the methods you have used and the effect on the data, results, findings, or outcomes .
Condense the key criteria or limitations , relate them to your research aims or questions, state the relevance to your overall thesis claim .
Section i ntroduction (approximately 1 paragraph)
Outline the literature you kept .
Location, authors, subject areas, types of research, research methods used in literature … count and calculate percentages (of xyz ) of coverage on topics, methods, or oth er study characteristics
Name what variables you were look ing for (if applicable)
Where the frontier of research is (found literature)
Where the gaps are in the research (literature not found)
Fresh perspectives on existing literature
S ummarise and s tate the most important variables you found in the literature . The categories will depend on your discipline, topic, purpose, and search results.
Use tables and graphs to represent the most important literature and concepts. Place large data sets into appendices and use links to raw data .
This article about types of tables commonly used may be helpful.
This article includes examples of figures ( pictograms and graphs) that may be helpful.
Provide an o verview of the literature you included using sentences and paragraphs. Then insert a logical series of paragraphs, about 1-3 for each section, explaining the literature and limits (see the Results and Analysis Structure tab).
Section summary (approximately 1 paragraph)
S ummarise the key results, relate the results to your research aims or questions, state the relevance to your overall thesis claim .
Results & analysis of the literature
There are differences between academic disciplines about addressing analysis and results at the same time or having two separate sections. Check with your supervisor or consult previously published literature reviews in your field. Essentially, these sections are about what you found and how you categorised the data. This changes with each discipline and field, but common options are: -
Research question and then sub-themes in the data
Science & Health tend to o rganise results by research questions and apply a similar logical sequence to each answer .
R esearch Q uestion 1 : state the question
Describe the # of studies involved, study characteristics, participant characteristics, efficacy of intervention or efficacy of treatment , therapy, or pharmaceuticals.
Describe each sub-theme from the literature you found about the research question.
Theoretical application 1 : state the i mpact on the data or system .
Describe research purpose, research questions or aims. State the main ideas found in the literature . This could be the efficacy of a drug-x, new perspectives or highlight key contradictory data . Outline the order you have put the writing in. This could be aims, themes or questions – it will depend on the discipline norms .
Body of discussion
I mportant to write about:
T he results from the review you have conducted and how they apply to what has been done in other studies
T he limitations of studies included in your review
If relevant to your research topic and questions:
G ive suggestions how contradictions may be resolved by future research
H ow this review has (or has not) generated a novel perspective on the subject
This c hanges with each discipline and field , but c ommon options are: -
R esearch aims – often rephrased as answers and literature applied to the aims . Rørtveit et al. (2015), provide a useful example of this structure.
K ey variables – often summarised and compared across the research you found. An example of this structure is used by Feldman et al. (2021) .
R esearch question – summary of relevant literature applied to the research question . Gauffriau (2021 ) provides a good example of this structure.
Research question and then sub-themes in the literature you found. Slabbert and Du Perez (2021) use this type of structure.
Theory elaboration – explain how the theory you are using applies to the research data . Pitt et al. (2017) use this structure.
If relevant to your research topic and questions:
State limitations of the review and how it affects the reliability of the whole review
Future direction of research
( T hese elements can appear separately or be integrated into the structured response )
A brief and direct interpretation may be made by summarising
Main findings identified from the research (present study)
Evidence of research gap s (future research that may be expanded in future chapters )
Any new themes emerging from the data of your review
Implications for future research , professional or clinical practice
Introduction ( 15 - 20% of word count)
Describe how you have grouped the literature in terms of theory, topics, chronology, methodology, or findings and order you have placed your main sections of writing in
Insert Journal A rticle
If you have published your systematic quantitative literature review, then inse rt the article in here .
Please confirm the requirements for including articles in a thesis for your academic discipline with your supervisor and the publisher.
Conclusion (3 – 5% of word count )
A brief and direct interpretation may be made by summarising:
Implications for future research , professional or clinical practice
L ink the article to the chapter, thesis argument and the remaining chapters in the thesis.
Abstract (3-5% of total word count)
Abstracts are used for journal articles . They appear first in the article but are written last. These are either a narrative style or structured by sub-titles. If you have editorial or publication guidelines, then follow those guidelines.
If you are writing a chapter in a thesis then they usually do not have an abstract. However, similar information would likely be included in the chapter introduction.
Narratives may include: -
What specific problem or research question was being addressed
Why the research was conducted
W hat methods were used to solve the problem or to answer the question
What res ults were obtained
What the results mean to your discipl ine and reader
State your argument or claim
Structured abstracts may include: -
Background – previous research
Aim – purpose of the study
Method – the system and summary of process
Results – what was found
Conclusions – how your results meet your aims
Value/Recommendations – what is new or of value to your discipline, practical implications, or limitations
Useful writing links :
Piper, R. (2013). How to write a systematic literature review: a guide for medical students. National Student Association for Medical Research.
RMIT Systematic Review Guides provide useful guide and annotations of medical examples of systematic reviews.
Griffith University style guide provides information about publication and tone of Griffith documents
Advice about conducting systematic reviews:
The Cochrane Library
Two recommended checklists for critical appraisal of study design; CAMARDADES and CONSORT
Systematic Quantitative Literature Review (SQLR) method
The PRISMA 2020 statement: an updated guideline for reporting systematic reviews
Griffith University RED workshops about Meta-analysis, meta-synthesis, & multiverse analyses and systematic style reviews are available
A British Medical Journal article on meta-analysis
Qualitative style literature review
Outline: Systematic Qualitative Literature Review Chapter
The following is a simple pattern to follow for writing your systematic qualitative literature review. Specific sections are detailed in each tab. As with all academic work, remember that all material should be referenced and permission to reproduce charts and images obtained.
Introduction ( 15 - 20% of word count)
Results & Analysis of the literature ( 2 0 - 25 % of word count) these can be separate sections
Discussion ( 20% of word count)
When writing your qualitative literature review it i s sometimes easier to start with the methods .
S tate the topic for review , the type of systematic review you are undertaking ( i.e., quantitative or qualitative , weighted, meta - analysis or meta- synth esis or other type of review ) and include whether this is a new or updated review .
For a qualitative review, d escribe the questions that are being asked to explore the central phenomen on or concept under review and identify the aims and expected outcome of the review .
Explain the significance of the review to your academic field and audience . How will it contribute to our understanding of this topic?
Describe the research frontiers or state of the field being research ed .
Define terms you are using, including debates and agreements about the terminology (this part may need separate paragraphs).
Describe how you have grouped the literature in terms of theory, topics, chronology, methodology, or findings . Provide a preview of t he order of the main sub sections in the literature review .
This section is crucial because it provides a full , transparent explanation o f the research method . S ummari es and descri ptions of the protocol s used to find , filter, analyse and quality test the literature are described . Not only does this information add credibility to your research, it also provides a way for future researchers to reproduce an update d literature review for the same topic . It may be used to inform journal articles , which may be included in your thesis .
S ection introduction (1 paragraph, 5-8 sentences)
Outline the t ype of literature review , topic and aims .
State time frames if they are relevant .
State any guidelines or the reporting framework you have used e.g., Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) .
Indicate the process for developing your research question , including any standardised systematic search strategies e.g., patient/population, intervention, comparison, outcomes (PICO) , or Sample, Phenomenon of Interest, Design, Evaluation, Research type (SPIDER) .
Indicate whether this is repeating an existing protocol, an update of a review protocol , or a new protocol .
Justify the choice and sequence of the subsections in this section .
S ection body (1 or more paragraphs)
Describe t he system you used to find and collect the literature . Use tables or diagrams for data , then cross-reference them in your paragraphs by refer ring readers to them. If they are too large to place in the text, place in appendices and refer readers to the appendix.
If you r topic is health-related, and you have regist e r ed the protocols of the review (PROSPERO) , provide the details .
Using sentences, d escribe r elevant search strings, key terms, filters and refinements you used .
Detail the t ools you used, where you searched, and which databases or search engines you us ed .
Describe the c riteria used to analyse and quality test the literature .
Explain your i nclusion and exclusion criteria, key themes you were reading for , or changes in criteria .
I f this is an updated review, describe revisions made to the protocol, why they were made and the effect.
O utline the number of documents found and then kept for each search string .
Explain t he critical appraisal system , including h ow you evaluated the studies f ound in your literature search , e.g., JBI critical appraisal checklist for qualitative research
- List the c ategories used to compare content across the literature e.g. outcomes , social aspects or competencies .
State w hether any articles were subsequently excluded and the reason for exclusion .
Explain subsequent add itions or updates after the initial search .
Ar ticulate any bias in the methods you have used for collecting, analysing or presenting information . E xplain how you managed this , as well as any potential effect on the data, results, findings or outcomes.
S ection summary (1 paragraph, 5 - 8 sentences)
Condense the key criteria or limitations , relate them to your research aims or questions, and state the relevance of the whole section to your main claim or academic argument .
Section i ntroduction (approximately 1 paragraph)
Describe the type of literature review, topic and aims.
Describe the theory , situation or problem being addressed .
Indicate the main research question s and expected outcome .
Explain the significance of your results to your academic field and audience .
Describe what this section addresses, results , analysis, or both .
Describe the logic you have used to organise the section .
For each theme o utline and describe: (approximately 1 paragraph)
L ocation, authors, subject areas, types of research, research methods used across the literature
W here the research frontier s are within the literature you found
W here the gaps are in the research (literature you didn’t find )
F resh perspectives on existing literature
T he most important themes you found in the literature . The categories will depend on your discipline, topic, purpose and search results.
T he reasoning for prioritising the themes or sub-themes.
Condense the key results , relate the results to your research aims or questions and state the relevance to your overall claim.
T h ere are differences between academic disciplines about address ing both elements at the same time or having two separat e sections . Check with your supervisor or look at published literature reviews in your field. Essent ially, t hese sections are about what you found and how you categorised the data. Interpretation of the findings is usually found in the Discussion section. Qualitative literature reviews are usually organised thematically.
Thematically organised literature tend s to apply the same logical sequence of material to each theme.
Several themes may need to be articulated. Each one c ould have its own sub- section and sub-heading .
There ar e two commonly used options.
Describe the number of studies involved, study or research design, effect or outcome of the research included (this will depend on what you aimed to achieve) and its rela tionship to your research topic or method . A useful example of this structure is used by Macaro et al., (2017 , p. 46 ) in their article .
Describe what you expected to find, what you didn’t find, then what you did find . A useful example of this structure is used by Yang et al. ( 2017, p. 96 ) in their article.
T ables and figures :
Create subsets of your data (literature you found) to represent the most important literature and concepts .
Place raw or large data sets into appendices and use links to raw data .
Use figures or tables to illustrate your process and findings.
Discussion s ection introduction (1 paragraph, 5-8 sentences) :
Summarise the research topic, purpose and aims.
Describe the theory, situation or problem being addressed .
State the main ideas in the discussion .
Outline the logic al order you have used to organise the section ; usually this is a similar logic to the results and analysis section – it will depend on the norms of your academic disciplin e
Discussion section b ody (1- 3 paragraphs) :
It is i mportant to include the following :
Provide a general interpretation of the main findings, including the strength of evidence.
Apply the results from the review you have conducted to what has been done in other studies .
I dentify and discuss the limitations of studies included in the review .
Consistent structure must be applied throughout the body to help readers navigate your writing .
Structures: there are four commonly used options
Research aims – often rephrased as answers and literature applied to the aims Rørtveit et al. (2015, p. 205 ), provide a useful example of this structure.
Key themes – often literature is summarised and applied to research questions or aims of the research like Cantali , (2019, p. 46)
Research question – summary of relevant literature applied to each research question Macaro et al., (2017 , p. 66 ) have a good example in their article.
Theory elaboration – explain how the theory you are using applies to the research data . Pitt et al. (2017, p. 2402) provide a useful example of this structure.
Discussion section summary ( 1 paragraph )
A brief and direct interpretation may be made by summarising:
Main findings identified from the research (present study) .
Evidence of research gap s (future research) .
Any new themes emerging from the data of your review .
Implications for future research o r clinical or professional practice .
A brief and direct interpretation may be made by summarising:
Main findings identified from the research (present study) .
Evidence of research gaps (future research) .
Any new themes emerging from the data of your review .
Limitations of the review .
Implications for future research or clinical or professional practice .
Insert Journal A rticle ( 75 - 80% of word count)
If you have published your systematic literature review, then inse rt the article in here .
Abstract (3 - 5% of total word count)
Griffith University RED workshops about qualitative systematic reviews, m eta-analysis, meta-synthesis, & multiverse analyses and systematic style reviews are available .
Campbell Collaboration for Education
Two recommended checklists for critical appraisal of study design; SPIDER
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- URL: https://libraryguides.griffith.edu.au/systematic-literature-reviews-for-education
- Library Help
- What is a Systematic Review (SR)?
Steps of a Systematic Review
- Framing a Research Question
- Developing a Search Strategy
- Searching the Literature
- Managing the Process
- Publishing your Systematic Review
Forms and templates
Image: David Parmenter's Shop
- PICO Template
- Inclusion/Exclusion Criteria
- Database Search Log
- Review Matrix
- Cochrane Tool for Assessing Risk of Bias in Included Studies
• PRISMA Flow Diagram - Record the numbers of retrieved references and included/excluded studies
• PRISMA Checklist - Checklist of items to include when reporting a systematic review or meta-analysis
PRISMA 2020 and PRISMA-S: Common Questions on Tracking Records and the Flow Diagram
- PROSPERO Template
- Manuscript Template
- Steps of SR (text)
- Steps of SR (visual)
- Steps of SR (PIECES)
Adapted from A Guide to Conducting Systematic Reviews: Steps in a Systematic Review by Cornell University Library
Click on each diagram below to learn more about the systematic review process.
Source: Centre for Health Communication and Participation
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- Last Updated: Mar 2, 2023 8:13 AM
- URL: https://lib.guides.umd.edu/SR
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How to write the methods section of a systematic review
Home | Blog | How To | How to write the methods section of a systematic review
Covidence breaks down how to write a methods section
The methods section of your systematic review describes what you did, how you did it, and why. Readers need this information to interpret the results and conclusions of the review. Often, a lot of information needs to be distilled into just a few paragraphs. This can be a challenging task, but good preparation and the right tools will help you to set off in the right direction 🗺️🧭.
Systematic reviews are so-called because they are conducted in a way that is rigorous and replicable. So it’s important that these methods are reported in a way that is thorough, clear, and easy to navigate for the reader – whether that’s a patient, a healthcare worker, or a researcher.
Like most things in a systematic review, the methods should be planned upfront and ideally described in detail in a project plan or protocol. Reviews of healthcare interventions follow the PRISMA guidelines for the minimum set of items to report in the methods section. But what else should be included? It’s a good idea to consider what readers will want to know about the review methods and whether the journal you’re planning to submit the work to has expectations on the reporting of methods. Finding out in advance will help you to plan what to include.
Describe what happened
While the research plan sets out what you intend to do, the methods section is a write-up of what actually happened. It’s not a simple case of rewriting the plan in the past tense – you will also need to discuss and justify deviations from the plan and describe the handling of issues that were unforeseen at the time the plan was written. For this reason, it is useful to make detailed notes before, during, and after the review is completed. Relying on memory alone risks losing valuable information and trawling through emails when the deadline is looming can be frustrating and time consuming!
Keep it brief
The methods section should be succinct but include all the noteworthy information. This can be a difficult balance to achieve. A useful strategy is to aim for a brief description that signposts the reader to a separate section or sections of supporting information. This could include datasets, a flowchart to show what happened to the excluded studies, a collection of search strategies, and tables containing detailed information about the studies.This separation keeps the review short and simple while enabling the reader to drill down to the detail as needed. And if the methods follow a well-known or standard process, it might suffice to say so and give a reference, rather than describe the process at length.
Follow a structure
A clear structure provides focus. Use of descriptive headings keeps the writing on track and helps the reader get to key information quickly. What should the structure of the methods section look like? As always, a lot depends on the type of review but it will certainly contain information relating to the following areas:
- Selection criteria ⭕
- Data collection and analysis 👩💻
- Study quality and risk of bias ⚖️
Let’s look at each of these in turn.
1. Selection criteria ⭕
The criteria for including and excluding studies are listed here. This includes detail about the types of studies, the types of participants, the types of interventions and the types of outcomes and how they were measured.
2. Search 🕵🏾♀️
Comprehensive reporting of the search is important because this means it can be evaluated and replicated. The search strategies are included in the review, along with details of the databases searched. It’s also important to list any restrictions on the search (for example, language), describe how resources other than electronic databases were searched (for example, non-indexed journals), and give the date that the searches were run. The PRISMA-S extension provides guidance on reporting literature searches.
Systematic reviewer pro-tip:
Copy and paste the search strategy to avoid introducing typos
3. Data collection and analysis 👩💻
This section describes:
- how studies were selected for inclusion in the review
- how study data were extracted from the study reports
- how study data were combined for analysis and synthesis
To describe how studies were selected for inclusion , review teams outline the screening process. Covidence uses reviewers’ decision data to automatically populate a PRISMA flow diagram for this purpose. Covidence can also calculate Cohen’s kappa to enable review teams to report the level of agreement among individual reviewers during screening.
To describe how study data were extracted from the study reports , reviewers outline the form that was used, any pilot-testing that was done, and the items that were extracted from the included studies. An important piece of information to include here is the process used to resolve conflict among the reviewers. Covidence’s data extraction tool saves reviewers’ comments and notes in the system as they work. This keeps the information in one place for easy retrieval ⚡.
To describe how study data were combined for analysis and synthesis, reviewers outline the type of synthesis (narrative or quantitative, for example), the methods for grouping data, the challenges that came up, and how these were dealt with. If the review includes a meta-analysis, it will detail how this was performed and how the treatment effects were measured.
4. Study quality and risk of bias ⚖️
Because the results of systematic reviews can be affected by many types of bias, reviewers make every effort to minimise it and to show the reader that the methods they used were appropriate. This section describes the methods used to assess study quality and an assessment of the risk of bias across a range of domains.
Steps to assess the risk of bias in studies include looking at how study participants were assigned to treatment groups and whether patients and/or study assessors were blinded to the treatment given. Reviewers also report their assessment of the risk of bias due to missing outcome data, whether that is due to participant drop-out or non-reporting of the outcomes by the study authors.
Covidence’s default template for assessing study quality is Cochrane’s risk of bias tool but it is also possible to start from scratch and build a tool with a set of custom domains if you prefer.
Careful planning, clear writing, and a structured approach are key to a good methods section. A methodologist will be able to refer review teams to examples of good methods reporting in the literature. Covidence helps reviewers to screen references, extract data and complete risk of bias tables quickly and efficiently. Sign up for a free trial today!
Laura Mellor. Portsmouth, UK
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- Knowledge Base
- Systematic Review | Definition, Example, & Guide
Systematic Review | Definition, Example & Guide
Published on June 15, 2022 by Shaun Turney . Revised on December 7, 2022.
A systematic review is a type of review that uses repeatable methods to find, select, and synthesize all available evidence. It answers a clearly formulated research question and explicitly states the methods used to arrive at the answer.
They answered the question “What is the effectiveness of probiotics in reducing eczema symptoms and improving quality of life in patients with eczema?”
In this context, a probiotic is a health product that contains live microorganisms and is taken by mouth. Eczema is a common skin condition that causes red, itchy skin.
Table of contents
What is a systematic review, systematic review vs. meta-analysis, systematic review vs. literature review, systematic review vs. scoping review, when to conduct a systematic review, pros and cons of systematic reviews, step-by-step example of a systematic review, frequently asked questions about systematic reviews.
A review is an overview of the research that’s already been completed on a topic.
What makes a systematic review different from other types of reviews is that the research methods are designed to reduce bias . The methods are repeatable, and the approach is formal and systematic:
- Formulate a research question
- Develop a protocol
- Search for all relevant studies
- Apply the selection criteria
- Extract the data
- Synthesize the data
- Write and publish a report
Although multiple sets of guidelines exist, the Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews is among the most widely used. It provides detailed guidelines on how to complete each step of the systematic review process.
Systematic reviews are most commonly used in medical and public health research, but they can also be found in other disciplines.
Systematic reviews typically answer their research question by synthesizing all available evidence and evaluating the quality of the evidence. Synthesizing means bringing together different information to tell a single, cohesive story. The synthesis can be narrative ( qualitative ), quantitative , or both.
Systematic reviews often quantitatively synthesize the evidence using a meta-analysis . A meta-analysis is a statistical analysis, not a type of review.
A meta-analysis is a technique to synthesize results from multiple studies. It’s a statistical analysis that combines the results of two or more studies, usually to estimate an effect size .
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A literature review is a type of review that uses a less systematic and formal approach than a systematic review. Typically, an expert in a topic will qualitatively summarize and evaluate previous work, without using a formal, explicit method.
Although literature reviews are often less time-consuming and can be insightful or helpful, they have a higher risk of bias and are less transparent than systematic reviews.
Similar to a systematic review, a scoping review is a type of review that tries to minimize bias by using transparent and repeatable methods.
However, a scoping review isn’t a type of systematic review. The most important difference is the goal: rather than answering a specific question, a scoping review explores a topic. The researcher tries to identify the main concepts, theories, and evidence, as well as gaps in the current research.
Sometimes scoping reviews are an exploratory preparation step for a systematic review, and sometimes they are a standalone project.
A systematic review is a good choice of review if you want to answer a question about the effectiveness of an intervention , such as a medical treatment.
To conduct a systematic review, you’ll need the following:
- A precise question , usually about the effectiveness of an intervention. The question needs to be about a topic that’s previously been studied by multiple researchers. If there’s no previous research, there’s nothing to review.
- If you’re doing a systematic review on your own (e.g., for a research paper or thesis ), you should take appropriate measures to ensure the validity and reliability of your research.
- Access to databases and journal archives. Often, your educational institution provides you with access.
- Time. A professional systematic review is a time-consuming process: it will take the lead author about six months of full-time work. If you’re a student, you should narrow the scope of your systematic review and stick to a tight schedule.
- Bibliographic, word-processing, spreadsheet, and statistical software . For example, you could use EndNote, Microsoft Word, Excel, and SPSS.
A systematic review has many pros .
- They minimize research bias by considering all available evidence and evaluating each study for bias.
- Their methods are transparent , so they can be scrutinized by others.
- They’re thorough : they summarize all available evidence.
- They can be replicated and updated by others.
Systematic reviews also have a few cons .
- They’re time-consuming .
- They’re narrow in scope : they only answer the precise research question.
The 7 steps for conducting a systematic review are explained with an example.
Step 1: Formulate a research question
Formulating the research question is probably the most important step of a systematic review. A clear research question will:
- Allow you to more effectively communicate your research to other researchers and practitioners
- Guide your decisions as you plan and conduct your systematic review
A good research question for a systematic review has four components, which you can remember with the acronym PICO :
- Population(s) or problem(s)
You can rearrange these four components to write your research question:
- What is the effectiveness of I versus C for O in P ?
Sometimes, you may want to include a fifth component, the type of study design . In this case, the acronym is PICOT .
- Type of study design(s)
- The population of patients with eczema
- The intervention of probiotics
- In comparison to no treatment, placebo , or non-probiotic treatment
- The outcome of changes in participant-, parent-, and doctor-rated symptoms of eczema and quality of life
- Randomized control trials, a type of study design
Their research question was:
- What is the effectiveness of probiotics versus no treatment, a placebo, or a non-probiotic treatment for reducing eczema symptoms and improving quality of life in patients with eczema?
Step 2: Develop a protocol
A protocol is a document that contains your research plan for the systematic review. This is an important step because having a plan allows you to work more efficiently and reduces bias.
Your protocol should include the following components:
- Background information : Provide the context of the research question, including why it’s important.
- Research objective (s) : Rephrase your research question as an objective.
- Selection criteria: State how you’ll decide which studies to include or exclude from your review.
- Search strategy: Discuss your plan for finding studies.
- Analysis: Explain what information you’ll collect from the studies and how you’ll synthesize the data.
If you’re a professional seeking to publish your review, it’s a good idea to bring together an advisory committee . This is a group of about six people who have experience in the topic you’re researching. They can help you make decisions about your protocol.
It’s highly recommended to register your protocol. Registering your protocol means submitting it to a database such as PROSPERO or ClinicalTrials.gov .
Step 3: Search for all relevant studies
Searching for relevant studies is the most time-consuming step of a systematic review.
To reduce bias, it’s important to search for relevant studies very thoroughly. Your strategy will depend on your field and your research question, but sources generally fall into these four categories:
- Databases: Search multiple databases of peer-reviewed literature, such as PubMed or Scopus . Think carefully about how to phrase your search terms and include multiple synonyms of each word. Use Boolean operators if relevant.
- Handsearching: In addition to searching the primary sources using databases, you’ll also need to search manually. One strategy is to scan relevant journals or conference proceedings. Another strategy is to scan the reference lists of relevant studies.
- Gray literature: Gray literature includes documents produced by governments, universities, and other institutions that aren’t published by traditional publishers. Graduate student theses are an important type of gray literature, which you can search using the Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations (NDLTD) . In medicine, clinical trial registries are another important type of gray literature.
- Experts: Contact experts in the field to ask if they have unpublished studies that should be included in your review.
At this stage of your review, you won’t read the articles yet. Simply save any potentially relevant citations using bibliographic software, such as Scribbr’s APA or MLA Generator .
- Databases: EMBASE, PsycINFO, AMED, LILACS, and ISI Web of Science
- Handsearch: Conference proceedings and reference lists of articles
- Gray literature: The Cochrane Library, the metaRegister of Controlled Trials, and the Ongoing Skin Trials Register
- Experts: Authors of unpublished registered trials, pharmaceutical companies, and manufacturers of probiotics
Step 4: Apply the selection criteria
Applying the selection criteria is a three-person job. Two of you will independently read the studies and decide which to include in your review based on the selection criteria you established in your protocol . The third person’s job is to break any ties.
To increase inter-rater reliability , ensure that everyone thoroughly understands the selection criteria before you begin.
If you’re writing a systematic review as a student for an assignment, you might not have a team. In this case, you’ll have to apply the selection criteria on your own; you can mention this as a limitation in your paper’s discussion.
You should apply the selection criteria in two phases:
- Based on the titles and abstracts : Decide whether each article potentially meets the selection criteria based on the information provided in the abstracts.
- Based on the full texts: Download the articles that weren’t excluded during the first phase. If an article isn’t available online or through your library, you may need to contact the authors to ask for a copy. Read the articles and decide which articles meet the selection criteria.
It’s very important to keep a meticulous record of why you included or excluded each article. When the selection process is complete, you can summarize what you did using a PRISMA flow diagram .
Next, Boyle and colleagues found the full texts for each of the remaining studies. Boyle and Tang read through the articles to decide if any more studies needed to be excluded based on the selection criteria.
When Boyle and Tang disagreed about whether a study should be excluded, they discussed it with Varigos until the three researchers came to an agreement.
Step 5: Extract the data
Extracting the data means collecting information from the selected studies in a systematic way. There are two types of information you need to collect from each study:
- Information about the study’s methods and results . The exact information will depend on your research question, but it might include the year, study design , sample size, context, research findings , and conclusions. If any data are missing, you’ll need to contact the study’s authors.
- Your judgment of the quality of the evidence, including risk of bias .
You should collect this information using forms. You can find sample forms in The Registry of Methods and Tools for Evidence-Informed Decision Making and the Grading of Recommendations, Assessment, Development and Evaluations Working Group .
Extracting the data is also a three-person job. Two people should do this step independently, and the third person will resolve any disagreements.
They also collected data about possible sources of bias, such as how the study participants were randomized into the control and treatment groups.
Step 6: Synthesize the data
Synthesizing the data means bringing together the information you collected into a single, cohesive story. There are two main approaches to synthesizing the data:
- Narrative ( qualitative ): Summarize the information in words. You’ll need to discuss the studies and assess their overall quality.
- Quantitative : Use statistical methods to summarize and compare data from different studies. The most common quantitative approach is a meta-analysis , which allows you to combine results from multiple studies into a summary result.
Generally, you should use both approaches together whenever possible. If you don’t have enough data, or the data from different studies aren’t comparable, then you can take just a narrative approach. However, you should justify why a quantitative approach wasn’t possible.
Boyle and colleagues also divided the studies into subgroups, such as studies about babies, children, and adults, and analyzed the effect sizes within each group.
Step 7: Write and publish a report
The purpose of writing a systematic review article is to share the answer to your research question and explain how you arrived at this answer.
Your article should include the following sections:
- Abstract : A summary of the review
- Introduction : Including the rationale and objectives
- Methods : Including the selection criteria, search method, data extraction method, and synthesis method
- Results : Including results of the search and selection process, study characteristics, risk of bias in the studies, and synthesis results
- Discussion : Including interpretation of the results and limitations of the review
- Conclusion : The answer to your research question and implications for practice, policy, or research
To verify that your report includes everything it needs, you can use the PRISMA checklist .
Once your report is written, you can publish it in a systematic review database, such as the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews , and/or in a peer-reviewed journal.
A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources (such as books, journal articles, and theses) related to a specific topic or research question .
It is often written as part of a thesis, dissertation , or research paper , in order to situate your work in relation to existing knowledge.
A literature review is a survey of credible sources on a topic, often used in dissertations , theses, and research papers . Literature reviews give an overview of knowledge on a subject, helping you identify relevant theories and methods, as well as gaps in existing research. Literature reviews are set up similarly to other academic texts , with an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion .
An annotated bibliography is a list of source references that has a short description (called an annotation ) for each of the sources. It is often assigned as part of the research process for a paper .
A systematic review is secondary research because it uses existing research. You don’t collect new data yourself.
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How To Structure Your Literature Review
3 options to help structure your chapter.
By: Amy Rommelspacher (PhD) | Reviewed By: Dr Eunice Rautenbach | November 2020
Writing the literature review chapter can seem pretty daunting when you’re piecing together your dissertation or thesis. As we’ve discussed before , a good literature review needs to achieve a few very important objectives – it should:
- Demonstrate your knowledge of the research topic
- Identify the gaps in the literature and show how your research links to these
- Provide the foundation for your conceptual framework (if you have one)
- Inform your own methodology and research design
To achieve this, your literature review needs a well-thought-out structure . Get the structure of your literature review chapter wrong and you’ll struggle to achieve these objectives. Don’t worry though – in this post, we’ll look at how to structure your literature review for maximum impact (and marks!).
But wait – is this the right time?
Deciding on the structure of your literature review should come towards the end of the literature review process – after you have collected and digested the literature, but before you start writing the chapter.
In other words, you need to first develop a rich understanding of the literature before you even attempt to map out a structure. There’s no use trying to develop a structure before you’ve fully wrapped your head around the existing research.
Equally importantly, you need to have a structure in place before you start writing , or your literature review will most likely end up a rambling, disjointed mess.
Importantly, don’t feel that once you’ve defined a structure you can’t iterate on it. It’s perfectly natural to adjust as you engage in the writing process. As we’ve discussed before , writing is a way of developing your thinking, so it’s quite common for your thinking to change – and therefore, for your chapter structure to change – as you write.
Need a helping hand?
Like any other chapter in your thesis or dissertation, your literature review needs to have a clear, logical structure. At a minimum, it should have three essential components – an introduction , a body and a conclusion .
Let’s take a closer look at each of these.
1: The Introduction Section
Just like any good introduction, the introduction section of your literature review should introduce the purpose and layout (organisation) of the chapter. In other words, your introduction needs to give the reader a taste of what’s to come, and how you’re going to lay that out. Essentially, you should provide the reader with a high-level roadmap of your chapter to give them a taste of the journey that lies ahead.
Here’s an example of the layout visualised in a literature review introduction:
Your introduction should also outline your topic (including any tricky terminology or jargon) and provide an explanation of the scope of your literature review – in other words, what you will and won’t be covering (the delimitations ). This helps ringfence your review and achieve a clear focus . The clearer and narrower your focus, the deeper you can dive into the topic (which is typically where the magic lies).
Depending on the nature of your project, you could also present your stance or point of view at this stage. In other words, after grappling with the literature you’ll have an opinion about what the trends and concerns are in the field as well as what’s lacking. The introduction section can then present these ideas so that it is clear to examiners that you’re aware of how your research connects with existing knowledge .
2: The Body Section
The body of your literature review is the centre of your work. This is where you’ll present, analyse, evaluate and synthesise the existing research. In other words, this is where you’re going to earn (or lose) the most marks. Therefore, it’s important to carefully think about how you will organise your discussion to present it in a clear way.
The body of your literature review should do just as the description of this chapter suggests. It should “review” the literature – in other words, identify, analyse, and synthesise it. So, when thinking about structuring your literature review, you need to think about which structural approach will provide the best “review” for your specific type of research and objectives (we’ll get to this shortly).
There are (broadly speaking) three options for organising your literature review.
Option 1: Chronological (according to date)
Organising the literature chronologically is one of the simplest ways to structure your literature review. You start with what was published first and work your way through the literature until you reach the work published most recently. Pretty straightforward.
The benefit of this option is that it makes it easy to discuss the developments and debates in the field as they emerged over time. Organising your literature chronologically also allows you to highlight how specific articles or pieces of work might have changed the course of the field – in other words, which research has had the most impact . Therefore, this approach is very useful when your research is aimed at understanding how the topic has unfolded over time and is often used by scholars in the field of history. That said, this approach can be utilised by anyone that wants to explore change over time .
For example , if a student of politics is investigating how the understanding of democracy has evolved over time, they could use the chronological approach to provide a narrative that demonstrates how this understanding has changed through the ages.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself to help you structure your literature review chronologically.
- What is the earliest literature published relating to this topic?
- How has the field changed over time? Why?
- What are the most recent discoveries/theories?
In some ways, chronology plays a part whichever way you decide to structure your literature review, because you will always, to a certain extent, be analysing how the literature has developed. However, with the chronological approach, the emphasis is very firmly on how the discussion has evolved over time , as opposed to how all the literature links together (which we’ll discuss next ).
Option 2: Thematic (grouped by theme)
The thematic approach to structuring a literature review means organising your literature by theme or category – for example, by independent variables (i.e. factors that have an impact on a specific outcome).
As you’ve been collecting and synthesising literature, you’ll likely have started seeing some themes or patterns emerging. You can then use these themes or patterns as a structure for your body discussion. The thematic approach is the most common approach and is useful for structuring literature reviews in most fields.
For example, if you were researching which factors contributed towards people trusting an organisation, you might find themes such as consumers’ perceptions of an organisation’s competence, benevolence and integrity. Structuring your literature review thematically would mean structuring your literature review’s body section to discuss each of these themes, one section at a time.
Here are some questions to ask yourself when structuring your literature review by themes:
- Are there any patterns that have come to light in the literature?
- What are the central themes and categories used by the researchers?
- Do I have enough evidence of these themes?
Option 3: Methodological
The methodological option is a way of structuring your literature review by the research methodologies used . In other words, organising your discussion based on the angle from which each piece of research was approached – for example, qualitative , quantitative or mixed methodologies.
Structuring your literature review by methodology can be useful if you are drawing research from a variety of disciplines and are critiquing different methodologies. The point of this approach is to question how existing research has been conducted, as opposed to what the conclusions and/or findings the research were.
For example, a sociologist might centre their research around critiquing specific fieldwork practices. Their literature review will then be a summary of the fieldwork methodologies used by different studies.
Here are some questions you can ask yourself when structuring your literature review according to methodology:
- Which methodologies have been utilised in this field?
- Which methodology is the most popular (and why)?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of the various methodologies?
- How can the existing methodologies inform my own methodology?
3: The Conclusion Section
Once you’ve completed the body section of your literature review using one of the structural approaches we discussed above, you’ll need to “wrap up” your literature review and pull all the pieces together to set the direction for the rest of your dissertation or thesis.
The conclusion is where you’ll present the key findings of your literature review. In this section, you should emphasise the research that is especially important to your research questions and highlight the gaps that exist in the literature. Based on this, you need to make it clear what you will add to the literature – in other words, justify your own research by showing how it will help fill one or more of the gaps you just identified.
Last but not least, if it’s your intention to develop a theoretical framework for your dissertation or thesis, the conclusion section is a good place to present this.
In this article, we’ve discussed how to structure your literature review for maximum impact. Here’s a quick recap of what you need to keep in mind when deciding on your literature review structure:
- Just like other chapters, your literature review needs a clear introduction , body and conclusion .
- The introduction section should provide an overview of what you will discuss in your literature review.
- The body section of your literature review can be organised by chronology , theme or methodology . The right structural approach depends on what you’re trying to achieve with your research.
- The conclusion section should draw together the key findings of your literature review and link them to your research questions.
If you’re ready to get started, be sure to download our free literature review template to fast-track your chapter outline.
Psst… there’s more (for free)
This post is part of our research writing mini-course, which covers everything you need to get started with your dissertation, thesis or research project.
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Great work. This is exactly what I was looking for and helps a lot together with your previous post on literature review. One last thing is missing: a link to a great literature chapter of an journal article (maybe with comments of the different sections in this review chapter). Do you know any great literature review chapters?
I agree with you Marin… A great piece
I thank you immensely for this wonderful guide
It is indeed thought and supportive work for the futurist researcher and students
Very educative and good time to get guide. Thank you
Great work, very insightful. Thank you.
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This is very educative and precise . Thank you very much for dropping this kind of write up .
Pheeww, so damn helpful, thank you for this informative piece.
I’m doing a research project topic ; stool analysis for parasitic worm (enteric) worm, how do I structure it, thanks.
comprehensive explanation. Help us by pasting the URL of some good “literature review” for better understanding.
great piece. thanks for the awesome explanation. it is really worth sharing. I have a little question, if anyone can help me out, which of the options in the body of literature can be best fit if you are writing an architectural thesis that deals with design?
I am doing a research on nanofluids how can l structure it?
Beautifully clear.nThank you!
Brilliant work, well understood, many thanks
I like how this was so clear with simple language 😊😊 thank you so much 😊 for these information 😊
Insightful. I was struggling to come up with a sensible literature review but this has been really helpful. Thank you!
You have given thought-provoking information about the review of the literature.
Thank you. It has made my own research better and to impart your work to students I teach
I learnt a lot from this teaching. It’s a great piece.
I am doing research on EFL teacher motivation for his/her job. How Can I structure it? Is there any detailed template, additional to this?
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Writing An Introduction Of A Systematic Review Of Literature – A Quick Reference Table
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Systematic reviews are performed for synthesizing the evidence of multiple scientific investigations to answer a specific research question in a manner that is reproducible and transparent while seeking to include all published evidence on the topic followed evaluating the quality of this evidence. A Systematic review remains among the best forms of evidence and reduces the bias inherent in other methods. In the disciplines of public policy health and health sciences, systematic reviews have become the main methodology. Previously, some have provided that structure research ought to embrace the systematic review, but limited guidance is available. This section presented an overview of the various steps involved in performing a systematic review. This information should provide proper guidance for those who are conducting a systematic literature review (Davis, 2019 ).
Key characteristics of the systematic review
Identification of a research question, inclusion & exclusion criteria.
- Rigorous & systematic search of the literature
- Critical appraisal of included studies
- Data extraction and management
- Analysis & interpretation of results
- Report for publication
Different types of the systematic review
The systematic review mainly classified into three types, including (1) meta-analysis, (2) quantitative analysis and (3) qualitative analysis.
Meta-analysis: A meta-analysis utilizes statistical methods to incorporate appraisals of impact from relevant studies that are independent yet comparable and outline them.
Quantitative: To combine the results of 2 or more studies by using statistical analysis is called quantitative analysis.
Qualitative: The qualitative analysis generally defined as the results of the relevant studies are summarized but not combined statistically.
Steps to be followed before drafting a systematic review
The identification of the research question is significant before undertaking a systematic review of literature . For instance, for what reason is this survey essential? What question should be replying?. There are a variety of frameworks/tools available for supporting this process such as SPIDER, PICOS/PICO, SPICE and PEO criteria. These kinds of frameworks help to break down the question into relevant subcomponents and map them to concepts, to derive a formalized search criterion. This step is essential for finding literature relevant to the subject (Jahan et al., 2016 ).
It is important to determine the eligibility criteria before starting the systematic review, including methods, study design, set criteria for the topic and the methodological quality of studies.
Guidelines for systematic review
Researchers widely follow the PRISMA guidelines in writing a systematic review . The PRISMA guidelines guide researchers on how to write a systematic review and that comprises a flow diagram and a 27-item checklist. A protocol of PRISMA guidelines including (1) Databases to be searched and additional sources (2) Keywords to be used in the search strategy (3) Limits applied to the search (4) Limits enforced to the search (5) Screening process (6) Data to be extracted and (7) Summary of data to be reported.
Screening of the articles
Some vital web source for the article screening including PubMed (Biomedical and life sciences topic), Medline (Biomedical information and life sciences), Embase (Biomedical information), Web of Science (Multidiscipline science), Biosis (Life sciences and biomedical topics), PsycINFO (Behaviour and mental health), SCOPUS (Life sciences, social sciences, physical sciences and health science), CINAHL (Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature), Cochrane Library (Database of systematic reviews ), CENTRAL (The Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials) and OpenGrey (Grey literature).
Title and abstract screening: Initially, the title and abstract of the articles should be screened whether the title and abstract are relevant to the present research.
Full-text review: The remaining articles screened in a way mentioned above and the relevant sections are in their entire texts.
Data extraction: The essential data of the articles are extracted in a data extract sheet in a uniform and structured manner. The extraction sheets may differ based on the study’s purpose. Generally, the data extraction sheet containing the title of the article, study design, region, sample size, interventions and outcomes (Mueller et al., 2017 ).
The screened studies results can be analyzed by separating them based on the subthemes; themes often referred to as meta-synthesis (Siddaway et al., 2019 ).
The systematic review should be in the following structure
The abstract should contain a brief background, the aim of the study, a summary of the methodology, an overview of the results, conclusion and keywords.
The chapter contains a brief background of the present study, followed by an overview of the aim and objectives of the research undertaken.
The methodology should be containing a full justification and explanation for the managing and searching steps. Specifically, the justification includes a thorough explanation about inclusion/exclusion criteria, search string, searching strategy, limitations, how studies were screened, data extraction protocol, method of quality assessment and statistical analysis .
The quantitative explanation and evidence must be given to the process of study exclusion/inclusion and summarized in a specific flow diagram. A characteristic of the study summary should be obtained, the sum of all studies, age range, mean/median and other characteristics.
To discuss the present study with the light of relevant research done in other studies. The main component of the discussion chapter should be focused on discussing and identifying the limitations of the studies included in the review.
The conclusion should be containing the summary of different aspects of the present study, and the results generated as well as the future scope of research and the findings derived from the present study.
Performing a systematic review of literature is quite complicated and time-consuming process which takes between 6 and 18 months on average depends on the study design. The guidelines mentioned above provide a good outline for conducting a systematic review of the literature. This framework especially is essential for early career researchers and medical students to enhance their writing knowledge on the systematic review of the literature.
Quick reference Table
- A systematic review of the literature tends to be one of the most trusted sources of high-quality information for clinical decisions.
- Knowing the elements of a review will help practitioners evaluate their output more effectively.
- Many formal structures help organize and monitor evaluations, for which reproducibility is recommended.
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Research and Writing Guides
Writing a paper? Don't get lost.
- How to write a systematic literature review
- What is a systematic literature review?
A systematic literature review is a summary, analysis, and evaluation of all the existing research on a well-formulated and specific question. Put simply, it’s a study of studies.
- Where are systematic literature reviews used?
Systematic literature reviews can be utilized in various contexts, but they’re often relied on in clinical or healthcare settings.
Medical professionals read systematic literature reviews to stay up-to-date in their field, and granting agencies sometimes need them to make sure there’s justification for further research in an area. They can even be used as the starting point for developing clinical practice guidelines.
- What types of systematic literature review are there?
A classic systematic literature review can take different approaches:
- Effectiveness reviews assess the extent to which a medical intervention or therapy achieves its intended effect. They’re the most common type of systematic literature review.
- Diagnostic test accuracy reviews produce a summary of diagnostic test performance so that their accuracy can be determined before use by healthcare professionals.
- Experiential (qualitative) reviews analyze human experiences in a cultural or social context. They can be used to assess the effectiveness of an intervention from a person-centric perspective.
- Costs/economics evaluation reviews look at the cost implications of an intervention or procedure, to assess the resources needed to implement it.
- Etiology/risk reviews usually try to determine to what degree a relationship exists between an exposure and a health outcome. This can be used to better inform healthcare planning and resource allocation.
- Psychometric reviews assess the quality of health measurement tools so that the best instrument can be selected for use.
- Prevalence/incidence reviews measure both the proportion of a population who have a disease, and how often the disease occurs.
- Prognostic reviews examine the course of a disease and its potential outcomes.
- Expert opinion/policy reviews are based around expert narrative or policy. They’re often used to complement, or in the absence of, quantitative data.
- Methodology systematic reviews can be carried out to analyze any methodological issues in the design, conduct, or review of research studies.
Writing a systematic literature review can feel like an overwhelming undertaking. After all, they can often take 6 to 18 months to complete. But, as with any documentation, we can break them down into the sections that should be included. Below we’ve prepared a step-by-step guide on how to write a systematic literature review.
- 1. Decide on your team
When carrying out a systematic literature review, you should employ multiple reviewers in order to minimize bias and strengthen analysis. A minimum of two is a good rule of thumb, with a third to serve as a tiebreaker if needed.
You may also need to team up with a librarian to help with the search, literature screeners, a statistician to analyze the data, and the relevant subject experts.
- 2. Formulate your question
Define your answerable question. Then ask yourself, “has someone written a systematic literature review on my question already?” If so, yours may not be needed. A librarian can help you answer this.
You should formulate a ‘Well-Built Clinical Question’ – this is the process of generating a good search question. To do this, run through PICO:
- P atient or Population or Problem/Disease – Who or what is the question about? Are there factors about them (e.g. age, race) that could be relevant to the question you’re trying to answer?
- I ntervention – Which main intervention or treatment are you considering for assessment?
- C omparison/s or Control – Is there an alternative intervention or treatment you’re considering? Your systematic literature review doesn’t have to contain a comparison, but you’ll want to stipulate at this stage, either way.
- O utcome/s – What are you trying to measure or achieve? What’s the wider goal for the work you’ll be doing?
- 3. Plan your research protocol
Now you need a detailed strategy for how you’re going to search for and evaluate the studies relating to your question.
The protocol for your systematic literature review should include:
- The objectives of your project
- The specific methods and processes that you’ll use
- The eligibility criteria of the individual studies
- How you plan to extract data from individual studies
- Which analyses you’re going to carry out
For a full guide on how to systematically develop your protocol, take a look at the PRISMA checklist . PRISMA has been designed primarily to improve the reporting of systematic literature reviews and meta-analyses.
- 4. Search for the literature
When writing a systematic literature review, your goal is to find all of the relevant studies relating to your question, so you need to search thoroughly .
This is where your librarian will come in handy again. They should be able to help you formulate a detailed search strategy, and point you to all of the best databases for your topic.
The places to consider in your search are electronic scientific databases (the most popular are PubMed, MEDLINE, and Embase), controlled clinical trial registers, non-English literature, raw data from published trials, references listed in primary sources, and unpublished sources known to experts in the field.
But don’t miss out on ‘grey literature’ sources – those sources outside of the usual academic publishing environment. They include non-peer-reviewed journals, pharmaceutical industry files, conference proceedings, pharmaceutical company websites, and internal reports. Grey literature sources are more likely to contain negative conclusions, so you’ll improve the reliability of your findings by including them.
You should document details such as:
- The databases you search and which years they cover
- The dates you first run the searches, and when they’re updated
- Which strategies you use, including search terms
- The numbers of results obtained
- 5. Screen the literature
This should be performed by your two reviewers, using the criteria documented in your research protocol. The screening is done in two phases:
- Pre-screening all titles and abstracts, and selecting those appropriate
- Screening the full-text articles of the selected studies
Make sure reviewers keep a log of which studies they exclude, with reasons why.
- 6. Assess the quality of the studies
Your reviewers should evaluate the methodological quality of your chosen full-text articles. Make an assessment checklist that closely aligns with your research protocol, including a consistent scoring system, calculations of the quality of each study, and sensitivity analysis.
The kinds of questions you'll come up with are:
- Were the participants really randomly allocated to their groups?
- Were the groups similar in terms of prognostic factors?
- Could the conclusions of the study have been influenced by bias?
- 7. Extract the data
Every step of the data extraction must be documented for transparency and replicability. Create a data extraction form and set your reviewers to work extracting data from the qualified studies.
Here’s a free detailed template for recording data extraction, from Dalhousie University, Canada. It should be adapted to your specific question.
- 8. Analyze the results
Establish a standard measure of outcome which can be applied to each study on the basis of its effect size.
Measures of outcome for studies with:
- Binary outcomes (e.g. cured/not cured) are odds ratio and risk ratio
- Continuous outcomes (e.g. blood pressure) are means, difference in means, and standardized difference in means
- Survival or time-to-event data are hazard ratios
Design a table and populate it with your data results. Draw this out into a forest plot , which provides a simple visual representation of variation between the studies. Then analyze the data for issues. These can include heterogeneity, which is when studies’ lines within the forest plot don’t overlap with any other studies.
Again, record any excluded studies here for reference.
- 9. Interpret and present the results
Consider different factors when interpreting your results. These include limitations, strength of evidence, biases, applicability, economic effects, and implications for future practice or research.
Apply appropriate grading of your evidence and consider the strength of your recommendations.
It’s best to formulate a detailed plan for how you’ll present your systematic review results – take a look at these guidelines from the Cochrane Institute.
- Registering your systematic literature review
Before writing your systematic literature review, you can register it with OSF for additional guidance along the way.
Or, maybe you'd prefer to register your completed work with PROSPERO or TUScholarShare .
- Frequently Asked Questions about writing a systematic literature review
Systematic literature reviews are often found in clinical or healthcare settings. Medical professionals read systematic literature reviews to stay up-to-date in their field and granting agencies sometimes need them to make sure there’s justification for further research in an area.
The first stage in carrying out a systematic literature review is to put together your team. You should employ multiple reviewers in order to minimize bias and strengthen analysis. A minimum of two is a good rule of thumb, with a third to serve as a tiebreaker if needed.
Your systematic review should include the following details:
A literature review simply provides a summary of the literature available on a topic. A systematic review, on the other hand, is more than just a summary. It also includes an analysis and evaluation of existing research. Put simply, it's a study of studies.
The final stage of conducting a systematic literature review is interpreting and presenting the results. It’s best to formulate a detailed plan for how you’ll present your systematic review results, guidelines can be found for example from the Cochrane institute .
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Welcome to Systematic Review
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(2020). Welcome to systematic review [Video]. Sage Research Methods. https:// doi. org/10.4135/9781529627183
"Welcome to Systematic Review." In Sage Video . : Muhammad Shakil Ahmad, 2020. Video, 00:10:01. https:// doi. org/10.4135/9781529627183.
, 2020. Welcome to Systematic Review , Sage Video. [Streaming Video] London: Sage Publications Ltd. Available at: <https:// doi. org/10.4135/9781529627183 & gt; [Accessed 16 Mar 2023].
Welcome to Systematic Review . Online video clip. SAGE Video. London: SAGE Publications, Ltd., 17 Nov 2022. doi: https:// doi. org/10.4135/9781529627183. 16 Mar 2023.
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Overview of the systematic literature reviews course with a section-by-section breakdown of topics covered.
Chapter 1: Introduction to Systematic Literature Reviews
- Start time: 00:00:00
- End time: 00:03:53
Chapter 2: Section-By-Section Breakdown of the Systematic Literature Review Course
- Start time: 00:03:54
- End time: 00:10:01
- Product: Sage Research Methods Video: Qualitative and Mixed Methods
- Type of Content: Tutorial
- Title: Welcome to Systematic Review
- Publisher: Muhammad Shakil Ahmad
- Publication year: 2020
- Online pub date: November 17, 2022
- Discipline: Criminology and Criminal Justice , History , Science , Communication and Media Studies , Education , Public Health , Psychology , Health , Anthropology , Counseling and Psychotherapy , Nursing , Social Work , Political Science and International Relations , Geography , Business and Management , Sociology , Social Policy and Public Policy
- Methods: Qualitative measures , Systematic review , Literature review
- Duration: 00:10:01
- DOI: https:// doi. org/10.4135/9781529627183
- Keywords: literature reviews , qualitative research methods , Systematic reviews
- Online ISBN: 9781529627183 Copyright: Copyright 2020, Muhammad Shakil Ahmad More information Less information
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Methodology of a systematic review
- 1 Hospital Universitario La Paz, Madrid, España. Electronic address: [email protected]
- 2 Hospital Universitario Fundación Alcorcón, Madrid, España.
- 3 Instituto Valenciano de Oncología, Valencia, España.
- 4 Hospital Universitario de Cabueñes, Gijón, Asturias, España.
- 5 Hospital Universitario Ramón y Cajal, Madrid, España.
- 6 Hospital Universitario Gregorio Marañón, Madrid, España.
- 7 Hospital Universitario de Canarias, Tenerife, España.
- 8 Hospital Clínic, Barcelona, España; EAU Guidelines Office Board Member.
- PMID: 29731270
- DOI: 10.1016/j.acuro.2018.01.010
Context: The objective of evidence-based medicine is to employ the best scientific information available to apply to clinical practice. Understanding and interpreting the scientific evidence involves understanding the available levels of evidence, where systematic reviews and meta-analyses of clinical trials are at the top of the levels-of-evidence pyramid.
Acquisition of evidence: The review process should be well developed and planned to reduce biases and eliminate irrelevant and low-quality studies. The steps for implementing a systematic review include (i) correctly formulating the clinical question to answer (PICO), (ii) developing a protocol (inclusion and exclusion criteria), (iii) performing a detailed and broad literature search and (iv) screening the abstracts of the studies identified in the search and subsequently of the selected complete texts (PRISMA).
Synthesis of the evidence: Once the studies have been selected, we need to (v) extract the necessary data into a form designed in the protocol to summarise the included studies, (vi) assess the biases of each study, identifying the quality of the available evidence, and (vii) develop tables and text that synthesise the evidence.
Conclusions: A systematic review involves a critical and reproducible summary of the results of the available publications on a particular topic or clinical question. To improve scientific writing, the methodology is shown in a structured manner to implement a systematic review.
Keywords: Meta-analysis; Metaanálisis; Methodology; Metodología; Revisión sistemática; Systematic review.
Copyright © 2018 AEU. Publicado por Elsevier España, S.L.U. All rights reserved.
- The Effectiveness of Integrated Care Pathways for Adults and Children in Health Care Settings: A Systematic Review. Allen D, Gillen E, Rixson L. Allen D, et al. JBI Libr Syst Rev. 2009;7(3):80-129. doi: 10.11124/01938924-200907030-00001. JBI Libr Syst Rev. 2009. PMID: 27820426
- The future of Cochrane Neonatal. Soll RF, Ovelman C, McGuire W. Soll RF, et al. Early Hum Dev. 2020 Nov;150:105191. doi: 10.1016/j.earlhumdev.2020.105191. Epub 2020 Sep 12. Early Hum Dev. 2020. PMID: 33036834
- Bias due to selective inclusion and reporting of outcomes and analyses in systematic reviews of randomised trials of healthcare interventions. Page MJ, McKenzie JE, Kirkham J, Dwan K, Kramer S, Green S, Forbes A. Page MJ, et al. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014 Oct 1;2014(10):MR000035. doi: 10.1002/14651858.MR000035.pub2. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014. PMID: 25271098 Free PMC article.
- Key Steps in Conducting Systematic Reviews for Underpinning Clinical Practice Guidelines: Methodology of the European Association of Urology. Knoll T, Omar MI, Maclennan S, Hernández V, Canfield S, Yuan Y, Bruins M, Marconi L, Van Poppel H, N'Dow J, Sylvester R; EAU Guidelines Office Senior Associates Group Authorship. Knoll T, et al. Eur Urol. 2018 Feb;73(2):290-300. doi: 10.1016/j.eururo.2017.08.016. Epub 2017 Sep 13. Eur Urol. 2018. PMID: 28917594
- Beyond the black stump: rapid reviews of health research issues affecting regional, rural and remote Australia. Osborne SR, Alston LV, Bolton KA, Whelan J, Reeve E, Wong Shee A, Browne J, Walker T, Versace VL, Allender S, Nichols M, Backholer K, Goodwin N, Lewis S, Dalton H, Prael G, Curtin M, Brooks R, Verdon S, Crockett J, Hodgins G, Walsh S, Lyle DM, Thompson SC, Browne LJ, Knight S, Pit SW, Jones M, Gillam MH, Leach MJ, Gonzalez-Chica DA, Muyambi K, Eshetie T, Tran K, May E, Lieschke G, Parker V, Smith A, Hayes C, Dunlop AJ, Rajappa H, White R, Oakley P, Holliday S. Osborne SR, et al. Med J Aust. 2020 Dec;213 Suppl 11:S3-S32.e1. doi: 10.5694/mja2.50881. Med J Aust. 2020. PMID: 33314144
- In Situ Simulation: A Strategy to Restore Patient Safety in Intensive Care Units after the COVID-19 Pandemic? Systematic Review. Gómez-Pérez V, Escrivá Peiró D, Sancho-Cantus D, Casaña Mohedo J. Gómez-Pérez V, et al. Healthcare (Basel). 2023 Jan 14;11(2):263. doi: 10.3390/healthcare11020263. Healthcare (Basel). 2023. PMID: 36673631 Free PMC article. Review.
- Insights and future directions for the application of perinatal derivatives in eye diseases: A critical review of preclinical and clinical studies. Norte-Muñoz M, Botelho MF, Schoeberlein A, Chaves J, Neto Murta J, Ponsaerts P, Agudo-Barriuso M, Costa E. Norte-Muñoz M, et al. Front Bioeng Biotechnol. 2022 Nov 8;10:969927. doi: 10.3389/fbioe.2022.969927. eCollection 2022. Front Bioeng Biotechnol. 2022. PMID: 36425647 Free PMC article. Review.
- Lung ultrasound-guided treatment for heart failure: An updated meta-analysis and trial sequential analysis. Li Y, Ai H, Ma N, Li P, Ren J. Li Y, et al. Front Cardiovasc Med. 2022 Aug 22;9:943633. doi: 10.3389/fcvm.2022.943633. eCollection 2022. Front Cardiovasc Med. 2022. PMID: 36072884 Free PMC article.
- Micro-RNAs Predict Response to Systemic Treatments in Metastatic Renal Cell Carcinoma Patients: Results from a Systematic Review of the Literature. Monti M, Lunardini S, Magli IA, Campi R, Primiceri G, Berardinelli F, Amparore D, Terracciano D, Lucarelli G, Schips L, Ferro M, Marchioni M. Monti M, et al. Biomedicines. 2022 May 31;10(6):1287. doi: 10.3390/biomedicines10061287. Biomedicines. 2022. PMID: 35740309 Free PMC article. Review.
- Antidepressants and Vertebral and Hip Risk Fracture: An Updated Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. de Filippis R, Mercurio M, Spina G, De Fazio P, Segura-Garcia C, Familiari F, Gasparini G, Galasso O. de Filippis R, et al. Healthcare (Basel). 2022 Apr 26;10(5):803. doi: 10.3390/healthcare10050803. Healthcare (Basel). 2022. PMID: 35627940 Free PMC article. Review.
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Systematic Literature Reviews
The MDR forces manufacturers to set up processes for continuous literature reviews and reevaluation of the available clinical data. In May 2021, the European Medical Device Directive (93/42/EEC) was replaced with the Medical Device Regulation (MDR, 2017/745). Unlike MDD, the MDR considers clinical evaluation to take place during the entire lifecycle of medical devices, meaning clinical data must be updated continuously. Seeing as clinical data is usually sourced from clinical investigations, post-market surveillance, and literature reviews.
Literature reviews are fundamental to any scientific discipline, social sciences, medicine, or linguistics. Over the past 100 years, scientific documentation and sharing of new research have evolved into a labyrinthine field of publication databases, each housing thousands of articles, journals, research manuscripts, and conference summaries and abstracts. Yet, with all this knowledge at the tip of our fingers, how do we gather and select information for analyzing scientific queries, and how do we interpret the collected literature about our topic?
What is a Literature review?
Literature reviews are an analytical approach to investigating a specific topic or research question. For the scientist, they help gain insight into current knowledge, relevant theories and methods, and any gaps or missing exploration opportunities in the existing research. For the reader, they should help situate the research within the current body of knowledge and provide context to the exploration of the chosen research subject. A literature review comprises four steps; investigation of published literature on the chosen topic; summarizing the chosen literature and synthesizing its relevance to the chosen topic; analyzing and critically evaluating the selected literature; and; presenting the literature in a structured way. Literature reviews are performed for various scientific works, such as theses, dissertations, journal articles, books, conference manuscripts, scientific journalism, and patient brochures and instructions for use. Most importantly, literature reviews are vital in clinical evaluations of drugs and medical devices. The latter is the focus of this article. In medical devices and clinical evaluations, literature reviews aim to provide the reader with context and background for the chosen treatment or disease or act as a general overview of a topic. The systematic literature review is a type of literature review that aims to answer a specific clinical question. While literature reviews can take a few weeks to a few months by a single author, conducting a systematic review can take a team of up to five authors a year or more.
History of the systematic literature reviews and meta-analyses
The systematic literature review asks a specific clinical question about the effectiveness of an intervention or treatment. It seeks to answer it by critically summarizing and analyzing the current evidence for that intervention. It is considered the highest form of evidence-gathering for medical science. The systematic review process can be further elevated by using meta-analysis methods on data in the chosen literature, resulting in a completely objective evaluation of the research findings.
James Lind , a Scottish doctor preoccupied with helping sailors in the royal navy avoid scurvy, was the author of the first-ever systematic literature review, in which he published a paper providing a clear and unbiased review of the existing evidence on scurvy. Although his article A treatise of the scurvy , published in 1753, was practically ignored, he started science on a path of systematic literature review that is still underway.
In 1972, archie cochrane wrote:.
“ It is surely a great criticism of our profession that we have not organized a critical summary, by specialty or subspecialty, adapted periodically, of all relevant randomized controlled trials .”
Gene Glass and Mary Lee Smith
Research synthesis and analysis emerged formally in 1975 when Gene Glass and Mary Lee Smith coined the term meta-analysis in their research paper Meta-analysis of psychotherapy outcome studies 1. During the rise of evidence-based medicine in the late 1970s and early 1980s, systematic research analysis and synthesis were applied to medicine and health. For example, researchers in Oxford began a program of systematic literature reviews on the effectiveness of health interventions, thus paving the way for evidence-based medicine and committing to the principles of accumulative scientific knowledge.
Characteristics of a Systematic Literature Review protocols
Systematic reviews are frequently used in evidence-based healthcare, public health interventions, and evidence-based policy and practice. They are designed to provide a comprehensive and complete summary of the current literature on a specific topic and to minimize bias in the analysis and interpretation of the collected research.
Many systematic literature reviews include meta-analysis, which applies statistical analysis to the available research. In contrast, others focus on the qualitative synthesis of data or mixed-method reviews that have both.
The systematic literature review should display the following characteristics:
Clearly defined and specific research questions and objectives
- Pre-defined inclusion and exclusion criteria for choosing relevant literature
- Pre-defined and systematic search strategy, including search terms and keywords
- Defined eligibility criteria to be applied to all the Specified used in the review
- A systematic and clear evaluation of the quality of the literature included
- Identification of excluded sources and justifications for exclusion
- Analysis of the gathered data and information
- References to incoherences, errors, and limitations in and of the chosen literature
What does PRISMA stand for?
The PRISMA framework (Preferred Rating for Systematic Reviews and Meta-analyses) was developed to ensure a standardized way of conducting a systematic review to ensure transparency and completeness. The framework is now required by more than 170 medical journals worldwide. In addition, it has been extended to support specific review types or aspects of the review process, for example, PRISMA-P for review protocols and PRISMA-ScR for scoping review.
What are the other tools used for Systematic Literature Review?
Similarly, the ENTREQ (Enhancing Transparency Reporting the Synthesis of Qualitative Research) guidelines exist for quantitative reviews, RAMESES (Realist and Meta-narrative Evidence Syntheses) for meta-narrative and realist reviews, and eMERGe (Improving Reporting of Meta-Ethnography) for meta-ethnography reviews.
How to conduct systematic literature reviews and meta-analyses?
Defining your study objective/research question
The definition of the research question and/or study objectives is the most important part of the systematic review. Without a clearly defined research question and quantifiable endpoints, the rest of the review can lack focus and accuracy, ultimately ending up with conclusions and weak and unfocused literature interpretations. Care should be taken to avoid research questions that are too wide or too narrow. For medical interventions and treatments, the PICO method is frequently used. The PICO framework helps develop search strategies focused on the patient, population, or problem (P); intervention (I); comparison, control, or comparator (C); and; outcome (O).
Lietrature Search Protocol
A clearly defined set of criteria must be set up to include or exclude research on the topic, and these criteria are included in the search protocol. The search protocol is your master document that guarantees transparency, repeatability, and audibility for your review. One of the most critical aspects of the systematic review is that it can be objectively evaluated for the accuracy of methods and search criteria, and the search protocol ensures that. The search protocol should be carefully planned according to the research question and explicitly documented before the review starts. It supports the review team, ensuring consistency and integrity in all the carried searches. Once the review is complete, you should be able to identify every paper you read and every piece of information you searched, critiqued, and defined. While doing all this, it is important to include everything – from the terms you used to search, strategies incorporated, and limitations you encountered along the way.
Literature Search Databases
Literature for clinical evaluations can be found in scientific journals, academic dissertations, books, bibliographic databases, and online databases. Most systematic reviews are based on 5-7 online publication sites, such as PubMed , Cochrane , and Embase (see below for more information), where publications are typically journal articles or conference abstracts. Literature can also be found in “gray” sources, such as dissertations, theses, fact sheets, government reports, and pre-prints of articles. Every source should be included, analyzed, synthesized, and acknowledged in a comprehensive literature review. It is also important to review multiple sources to avoid publication bias in the data interpretation. It is important to apply appropriate use of terminology when searching for literature. Unless a commonly accepted group of terminologies are used, a gap remains in data encryption – be it manual or automated. It is easy to find databases and thesauri highlighting common terminologies used in various fields. Furthermore, alternative spellings and similar conceptual roots should also be considered to ensure all relevant publications are included and evaluated. Boolean expressions can widen, focus, and improve search scope in almost all databases and should also be considered.
Data analysis and synthesis
Once you’ve done your searches, the eligibility criteria from your search protocol come into effect, and the methodological quality of your evaluation criteria is tested. Your data extraction from the literature should be performed precisely as established in the search protocol. In addition, it must be recorded so that it can be replicated faithfully by others in the future.
After selecting your data and literature, you are ready to start analyzing it. The more data is included in your review literature, the better and more unbiased your results will be. If appropriate and established in your search protocol, you can use meta-analysis (i.e., analyzing data from multiple sources through statistical methods) to analyze your data or other analytical tools, such as qualitative meta-synthesis, which is the synthesis of data from qualitative studies.
These sections are followed by acknowledgments, references, and tables and figures (the latter may also be included in the general text, depending on the journal).
Cochrane is the largest, and arguably one of the most important, international organizations in medicine and health today. Cochrane consists of more than 37,000 specialists in healthcare fields who systematically review randomized trials. Cochrane reviews are published in the Cochrane Library , in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews section , and are a valuable resource for anyone looking to conduct a systematic literature review.
PubMed is a free publication resource, housing more than 32 million citations and abstracts of biomedical literature. Although PubMed does not provide full-text citations, they link their citations to the full text, often through the publisher’s website. The largest component of Pubmed is MEDLINE , which consists most significant actions from biomedical publications through the National Library of Medicine .
Embase is another comprehensive medical literature database, similar to Pubmed, where you can search for full-text content or abstracts. Embase is focused on supporting pharmacovigilance and regulatory authorities and includes biomedical and pharmacological publications from 1947.
PubMed and Embase are powerful search engines for retrieving biomedical and life science literature. However, both sites require a thorough knowledge of the optimization of their search engines, the use of BOOLEAN operators, and the indexation systems of Medical Subject Headings, MeSH .
Systematic literature reviews and the EU MDR
In May 2021, the European Medical Device Directive (93/42/EEC) was replaced with the Medical Device Regulation (MDR, 2017/745). Unlike MDD, the MDR considers clinical evaluation to take place during the entire lifecycle of medical devices, meaning clinical data must be updated continuously. Seeing as clinical data is usually sourced from clinical investigations, post-market surveillance, and literature reviews, the MDR forces manufacturers to set up processes for continuous literature reviews and reevaluation of the available clinical data. Several sections of the MDR propose using literature to support and source clinical data, such as for demonstrating equivalence, post-market clinical follow-up, clinical investigation plans, and investigators’ brochures. As such, systematic literature reviews are an invaluable part of sourcing clinical data for each clinical section in the MDR.
1) Smith, Mary & Glass, Gene. (1977). Meta-Analysis of Psychotherapy Outcome Studies. The American psychologist. 32. 752-60. 10.1037//0003-066X.32.9.752.
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Systematic Review Discussion Example
Automate every stage of your literature review to produce evidence-based research faster and more accurately.
What should be included in the discussion section of a systematic review.
There are a number of key elements that are included in a discussion section of a systematic review. Remember to use all these elements to ensure the quality of your review remains high, that your review is deemed useful to your peers, and that the validity of your systematic review cannot be questioned.
The first thing to do in your discussion is to summarize your most important findings. This can simply be identifying your key results. Be careful not to just repeat all the results you have outlined in your previous sections. Instead, once you have briefly mentioned them, go on to interpret them. The results from included studies are presented in a summary. The results are then compared among different studies, and the consistent themes, agreements, and contradictions among studies are identified. The consistencies are reported and reasons for contradictions are given. The themes and agreement among the studies are used to answer the research question. Your interpretations need to be backed up by evidence so that they make the intended impact. Interpretations can be based on your critical thinking. Your interpretations of study findings can be compared to the interpretation of another review on the same topic.
Another way to ensure that your review is as persuasive as possible is to discuss any strengths and weaknesses at this point, in your discussion. It is advisable to first talk about the most notable strengths and limitations of included studies. Afterward, you can show how the characteristics of individual included studies have affected the strengths and limitations of the review. Identifying weaknesses may not be immediately obvious for some writers of reviews. However, they are essential to include, especially in the discussion section, as it means you can explain them and examine why your findings are still valid, despite such weaknesses. Discussing strengths will support your view even further. By highlighting both strengths and weaknesses together, you can dismiss any negative criticism before it even begins.
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How Long Should A Discussion Be In A Systematic Review?
When it comes to the length of a discussion section, there is never really a right or wrong answer. The length of the discussion section is a systematic review is usually determined by the number of included studies, the scope of the research question, and the ability of the author to analyze and synthesize data from the included studies. That being said, given the breadth and number of areas to be covered as mentioned above, it will never be just one paragraph. Examining the strengths and weaknesses of your review alone will often call for a couple of paragraphs of discussion. Then you assert your findings that will answer your research question and support your initial hypothesis. This will likely demand another paragraph or two at least.
The Importance of Systematic Review Discussion
Remember that the discussion section of your review is, arguably, the most important part of your work. It is where you can put your label on all previous studies conducted, and highlight why your research into the area has been a worthwhile process. It is an opportunity for you to set yourself apart, and have your paper be seen as evidence for the subject matter in question. Therefore, the importance of a systematic review discussion cannot be overstated. The discussion section of a review is your chance to present the results of your analysis, which takes into account all previous studies or research in the area.
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Infrastructural aspects of rain-related cascading disasters: a systematic literature review.
1.1. challenges for analysing cascading disaster linkages, 1.2. cascading disaster models derived from literature reviews, definitions.
- Avalanche : The downslope displacement of surface materials (predominantly ice and snow) under gravitational forces.
- Ground Collapse : Rapid, downward vertical movement of the ground surface into a void.
- Ground Heave : The sudden or gradual, upward vertical movement of the ground surface.
- Landslide : The downslope displacement of surface materials (predominantly rock and soil) under gravitational forces.
- Flood : The inundation of typically dry land with water.
- Storm : A significant perturbation of the atmospheric system, often involving heavy precipitation and violent winds.
- Tornado : A violently rotating column of air pendant (normally) from a cumulonimbus cloud and in contact with the surface of the Earth.
- Agriculture : Land developed for farming crops or livestock. Effectively critical for subsidence communities or settings characterized by low food security.
- Buildings : Any private or public building that does not form part of other infrastructure categories.
- Electricity : Stationary structures built for the generation and supply of electricity.
- Oil & Gas : Stationary structures developed for the collection, refinement, and supply of oil or gas.
- Railway : Stationary structures built for the transit of trains across the land, and bridges built for the transit of trains.
- Roads : Stationary structures built for the transit of motor vehicles across the land, and bridges built for motor vehicle transit.
- Telecommunications : Stationary structures built for the transmission of communications, including wired and mobile telephones.
- Water Supply : Stationary structures developed to supply potable water for consumption.
5. conclusions, author contributions, acknowledgments, conflicts of interest.
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Share and Cite
Huggins, T.J.; E, F.; Chen, K.; Gong, W.; Yang, L. Infrastructural Aspects of Rain-Related Cascading Disasters: A Systematic Literature Review. Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2020 , 17 , 5175. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17145175
Huggins TJ, E F, Chen K, Gong W, Yang L. Infrastructural Aspects of Rain-Related Cascading Disasters: A Systematic Literature Review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health . 2020; 17(14):5175. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17145175
Huggins, Thomas J., Feiyu E, Kangming Chen, Wenwu Gong, and Lili Yang. 2020. "Infrastructural Aspects of Rain-Related Cascading Disasters: A Systematic Literature Review" International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 17, no. 14: 5175. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17145175
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Library subject guides
- Starting the review
- About systematic reviews
- Research Question
- Plan your search
- Sources to search
- Search example
- Screen and Analyse
What to include
Introduction, discussion and conclusion, annotated example.
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To help with the writing process try some books from the Library on:
- academic writing
- scholarly publishing
- literature review
- thesis writing
In general, the writing process for a systematic review is similar to the process of writing any other kind of review.
A systematic review should provide an answer to the research question , it is not a broad overview of current trends and gaps in research. The review should show the reader how the answer was found, and provide the results you have identified.
A systematic review must have a detailed methodology that describes the search process and the selection process. This is why careful documentation of the methodology is important. A reader of the review should be able to critically interpret the findings- to understand why sources were chosen, how they were assessed, and how conclusions were reached.
The structure of the systematic review differs from the narrative review or the traditional literature review that allows you to organise it to best support your argument. A systematic review should reflect the stages outlined in the protocol . With a systematic review reporting guidelines should be followed that help you identify what should be included in each section of the review. One such standard approach is PRISMA .
Although much time is invested in developing a search strategy and screening results, a systematic review is valued by the critical reflection and interpretation of the findings . Focus on analysing, not summarising. Use a critical analysis tool to assess the studies.
Your systematic review needs to tell a story, and it needs to clearly articulate how it provides meaningful and original advancement of the field .
The abstract provides an overview of the systematic review. It usually covers the following:
- A brief background (what we know and often the gap that the review will fill)
- The aim or hypothesis
- Summary of methods
- Summary of results
- Summary of conclusion (and sometimes recommendations).
Note that these points represent the general ‘story line’ seen in most systematic reviews: What we know (and perhaps what the gap is); what we set out to do; what we did; what we found; what this means.
The introduction provides an overview of the systematic review and enough contextual information for the reader to make sense of the remainder of the report. It usually covers the following:
- Background information to contextualise the review (what we already know about this area)
- Definitions of key terms and concepts if needed
- The rationale for the study (often in terms of a gap in knowledge that needs to be filled, a lack of agreement within the literature that needs to be resolved, or the potential implications of the findings)
- The aims and/or objectives (optional)
- The research question/s emanating from the rationale
- Additional information (Optional)
Note however, that these points are not always in this order. Some writers prefer to begin with the research questions, followed by the context, building to the rationale.
The methods section can be divided up into two main sections.
The first section describes how the literature search was conducted. This section may contain any of the following information:
- The databases searched and whether any manual searches were completed
- How search terms were identified
- What terms were employed in the key word searches
- If particular sections of articles were looked at during the search and collection stage i.e. titles, abstracts, table of contents ( note : the information in these sections may have informed the selection process)
The second section discusses the criteria for including or excluding studies. This section may include any of the following information:
- Your selection criteria
- How you identified relevant studies for further analysis
- What articles you reviewed
- What particular areas you looked at in the selected articles i.e. a relationship or association between two things (such as a genetic predisposition and a drug), the outcome measures of a health campaign, drug treatment, or clinical intervention, the differing impact of a particular drug or treatment.
Details about the kind of systematic review undertaken, i.e. thematic analysis, might also be mentioned in the methods section.
Broadly speaking, in the results section, everything you have done so far needs to be presented. This can include any of the following:
- briefly mention the databases used for the searching
- identify the number of hits
- show how the articles were selected by title, abstract, table of contents or other procedures.
- Overview of the kinds of studies selected for the review i.e. the types of methodologies or study designs used.
- where the trials were conducted
- treatment duration
- details about participants
- similarities and differences in the way data was measured
- similar or different approaches to the same treatment or condition
- Risk of bias across studies
- the kinds of relationships or associations demonstrated by the studies
- frequency of positive or adverse effects of a particular treatment or drug
- the number of studies that found a positive correlation between two phenomena or found a causal relationship between two variables
Often, researchers will include tables in the Results section or Appendix to provide on overview of data found in the studies. Remember, tables in the Results section need to be explained fully.
A primary function of your discussion and conclusion is to help readers understand the main findings and implications of the review.
The following elements are commonly found in the discussion and conclusion sections. Note that the points listed are neither mandatory nor in any prescribed order.
- Summary of main findings
- Interpretation of main findings (don’t repeat results)
- Strengths and weaknesses
- Comparison with previous review findings or general literature
- The degree to which the review answers the research question
- Whether the hypothesis was confirmed
- Limitations (e.g. biases, lack of methodological rigour or weak evidence in the articles)
- Summary of how it answers the research question (the ‘take home’ message)
- Significance of the findings
- Reminder of the limitations
- Implications and recommendations for further research.
Separate or combined?
A key difference between a discussion and a conclusion relates to how specific or general the observations are. A discussion closely interprets results in the context of the review. A conclusion identifies the significance and the implications beyond the review. Some reviews present these as separately headed sections. Many reviews, however, present only one section using a combination of elements. This section may be headed either Discussion or Conclusion.
The following publication has been used to supply annotated examples of the abstract, introduction, discussion and conclusion.
Jørgensen, C. R., Thomsen, T. G., Ross, L., Dietz, S. M., Therkildsen, S., Groenvold, M., Rasmussen, C. L., & Johnsen, A. T. (2018). What facilitates “patient empowerment” in cancer patients during follow-up: A qualitative systematic review of the literature. Qualitative Health Research, 28(2), 292-304. https://doi.org/10.1177/1049732317721477
- Abstract from journal article - annotated example
- Introduction from journal article - annotated example
- Discussion and Conclusion from journal article - annotated example
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A systematic literature review (SLR) identifies, selects and critically appraises research in order to answer a clearly formulated question (Dewey, A. & Drahota, A. 2016). The systematic review should follow a clearly defined protocol or plan where the criteria is clearly stated before the review is conducted.
The following is a simple pattern to follow for writing your systematic quantitative literature review. Specific sections are detailed in each tab. As with all academic work, remember that all material should be referenced and permission to reproduce charts and images obtained. Introduction (15-20% of your total available word count)
Systematic Reviews - Chapters 1-7 Mixed Methods Systematic Reviews - Chapter 8 Diagnostic Test Accuracy Systematic Reviews - Chapter 9 Umbrella Reviews - Chapter 10 Scoping Reviews - Chapter 11 Systematic Reviews of Measurement Properties - Chapter 12
This article provides a step-by-step approach to conducting and reporting systematic literature reviews (SLRs) in the domain of healthcare design and discusses some of the key quality issues associated with SLRs. SLR, as the name implies, is a systematic way of collecting, critically evaluating, integrating, and presenting findings from across ...
The methods section of your systematic review describes what you did, how you did it, and why. Readers need this information to interpret the results and conclusions of the review. Often, a lot of information needs to be distilled into just a few paragraphs.
These include structuring a research question, searching and appraising the literature, data extraction, analysis and synthesis, and reporting the results. It is this process that ensures reviews can be considered as a legitimate form of nursing research. Publication types Review Systematic Review
A systematic review is a type of study that synthesises research that has been conducted on a particular topic. Systematic reviews are considered to provide the highest level of evidence on the hierarchy of evidence pyramid. Systematic reviews are conducted following rigorous research methodology.
Systematic reviews are characterized by a methodical and replicable methodology and presentation. They involve a comprehensive search to locate all relevant published and unpublished work on a subject; a systematic integration of search results; and a critique of the extent, nature, and quality of e …
The 7 steps for conducting a systematic review are explained with an example. Step 1: Formulate a research question Formulating the research question is probably the most important step of a systematic review. A clear research question will: Allow you to more effectively communicate your research to other researchers and practitioners
Just like other chapters, your literature review needs a clear introduction, body and conclusion. The introduction section should provide an overview of what you will discuss in your literature review. The body section of your literature review can be organised by chronology, theme or methodology.
A systematic review involves detailed scrutiny and analysis of a huge mass of literature. To ensure that your work is efficient and effective, you should follow a clear process: 1. Develop a research question 2. Define inclusion and exclusion criteria 3. Locate studies 4. Select studies 5. Assess study quality 6. Extract data 7.
The systematic review mainly classified into three types, including (1) meta-analysis, (2) quantitative analysis and (3) qualitative analysis. Meta-analysis: A meta-analysis utilizes statistical methods to incorporate appraisals of impact from relevant studies that are independent yet comparable and outline them.
A classic systematic literature review can take different approaches: Effectiveness reviews assess the extent to which a medical intervention or therapy achieves its intended effect. They're the most common type of systematic literature review.
A systematic literature review attempts 'to identify, appraise and synthesize all the empirical evidence that ... This section of the review must be written thoroughly, giving full explanation and justification for the searching and managing steps listed earlier. In particular, justification must be stated for the source of the
Background: The role of evidence-based medicine in sports medicine and orthopaedic surgery is rapidly growing. Systematic reviews and meta-analyses are also proliferating in the medical literature. Purpose: To provide the outline necessary for a practitioner to properly understand and/or conduct a systematic review for publication in a sports medicine journal.
Overview of the systematic literature reviews course with a section-by-section breakdown of topics covered. Skip to main content. Menu. Menu close. Browse By . Discipline ... Chapter 2: Section-By-Section Breakdown of the Systematic Literature Review Course icon angle down. Start time: 00:03:54; End time: 00:10:01;
A systematic review involves a critical and reproducible summary of the results of the available publications on a particular topic or clinical question. ... developing a protocol (inclusion and exclusion criteria), (iii) performing a detailed and broad literature search and (iv) screening the abstracts of the studies identified in the search ...
A literature review comprises four steps; investigation of published literature on the chosen topic; summarizing the chosen literature and synthesizing its relevance to the chosen topic; analyzing and critically evaluating the selected literature; and; presenting the literature in a structured way.
The discussion section of a review is your chance to present the results of your analysis, which takes into account all previous studies or research in the area. To give you a helping hand in formulating the discussion, it can be useful to look at automating as much of the process as possible beforehand. Harnessing the power of DistillerSR can ...
A systematic review is a scholarly synthesis of the evidence on a clearly presented topic using critical methods to identify, define and assess research on the topic.  A systematic review extracts and interprets data from published studies on the topic, then analyzes, describes, and summarizes interpretations into a refined conclusion.
This is followed by Section 2 detailing the systematic literature review process used by the current research, to review a wide range of rain-related disaster case studies. Section 3 outlines how literature review results were used to develop a conceptual matrix of documented linkages between natural hazards and infrastructural impacts during ...
What to include. In general, the writing process for a systematic review is similar to the process of writing any other kind of review. A systematic review should provide an answer to the research question, it is not a broad overview of current trends and gaps in research. The review should show the reader how the answer was found, and provide ...