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What is a Systematic Review?

"A systematic review attempts to collate all empirical evidence that fits pre-specified eligibility criteria in order to answer a specific research question. It uses explicit, systematic methods that are selected with a view to minimizing bias, thus providing more reliable findings from which conclusions can be drawn and decisions made (Antman 1992, Oxman 1993). The key characteristics of a systematic review are:

1. A clearly stated set of objectives with pre-defined eligibility criteria for studies;

2. An explicit, reproducible methodology;

3. A systematic search that attempts to identify all studies that would meet the eligibility criteria;

4. An assessment of the validity of the findings of the included studies, for example through the assessment of risk of bias; and

5. A systematic presentation, and synthesis, of the characteristics and findings of the included studies."

-Higgins JPT, Green S (editors). Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions Version 5.1.0 [updated March 2011]. The Cochrane Collaboration, 2011. Available from