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Systematic Reviews

LibGuide to Systematic Reviews

Overview of Systematic Reviews

Systematic reviews use reproducible methods to systematically search the literature and synthesize the results of a specific topic area. Meta-analysis is a specific analytic technique used to quantitatively pool results of individual studies. A systematic review may or may not include a meta-analysis. Systematic reviews are useful ways to establish one’s knowledge in a particular field of study and can highlight gaps in research which can be pursued in future work. They can also inform the background of a grant. (From, CRSP 550/PQHS 500 Syllabus, Rebecca L. Morgan, PhD, MPH & Yngve Falck-Ytter, MD, AGAF)

**Please note, the time required to complete a full systematic review is often more than two years following the publication of a protocol.**

This Guide to Systematic Reviews uses information learned by the Cleveland Health Sciences Library staff who have participated in the CRSP 550/PQHS 500 course offered through the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. The guide is also informed by connection with professional activities in educational organizations, including the Medical Library Association conferences and listservs, as well the "real world" experiences of staff working in partnership with faculty, staff, and students performing systematic reviews. Finally, the majority of formal systematic review training and content is available at Cochrane.org.

Systematic Reviews are, as the name suggests, systematic.  This point cannot be overemphasized as the main purpose of a systematic review is to ensure the reproducibility of the process, that is, a key goal is that the process can be repeated by others who will ideally come to the same or similar conclusions. One key feature of a systematic review is that they can be updated over time to show new developments in research area.  To this end, systematic reviews, and this guide, focus on key steps in the process of creating a systematic review. These steps include:

  • Developing an answerable question for a systematic review or meta-analysis
  • Developing a protocol
  • Developing a search strategy
  • Abstracting data from studies
  • Synthesizing the results qualitatively
  • Grading the quality of studies
  • Rating the quality of outcomes across studies
  • Meta-Analytic techniques (if desired)
  • Preparing a manuscript specific to both systematic reviews and meta-analyses

It is recommended that you either have a question in mind, or manufacture a question you'd like to explore, while using this guide. For example, a well-known Cochrane study by Venekamp examined the effectiveness of antibiotic use versus no intervention in children with Acute Otitis Media.  

**Please note, this guide is NOT a replacement for taking a course with knowledgable and experienced professionals, nor does it claim to be exhaustive in its coverage of resources or processes used when performing a systematic review.  For questions regarding conducting a formal systematic review and engaging the assistance of Cleveland Health Sciences Librarians, please email the Reference Team at chslreference@case.edu.