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Systematic Reviews: Getting Started

Steps in a Systematic Review

Step 1: Develop an answerable question. Using a PICO (population, intervention(s), comparator(s), and outcomes) or its equivalent will help ensure that all important parts of the question are addressed.

Step 2: Gather a research team of at least two reviewers.

Step 3: Check for previously performed reviews in PROSPERO, PubMed, the Campbell Collaboration, the Cochrane Library, the JBI Database of Systematic Reviews, and JBI Registered Titles.

Step 4: Agree on specific inclusion and exclusion criteria.

Step 5: Devise reproducible search strategies for each database.

Step 6: Perform searches, remove duplicates, and organize search results using a reference manager such as EndNote.

Step 7: Screen articles by title and abstract using predetermined inclusion/exclusion criteria.

Step 8: Select articles for inclusion in final review and assess bias/credibility.

Step 9: Extract data into a standardized format.

Step 10: Synthesize data using statistical methods.

Time Involved

A systematic review usually takes 12-18 months from formulating a question through journal acceptance.

The average systematic review requires 18 months of work. “…to find out about a healthcare intervention it is worth searching research literature thoroughly to see if the answer is already known. This may require considerable work over many months (Cochrane Collaboration)."

Reporting Guidelines

The PRISMA Statement for Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses was written in 2009. The PRISMA checklist for systematic reviews, which is a blueprint for the entire systematic review process, can be accessed here.