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What is a systematic review?

'A systematic review attempts to identify, appraise and synthesize all the empirical evidence that meets pre-specified eligibility criteria to answer a given research question. Researchers conducting systematic reviews use explicit methods aimed at minimizing bias, in order to produce more reliable findings that can be used to inform decision making.'
About Cochrane reviews

The systematic review process is structured and pre-defined:

  1. Create a clearly defined question with inclusion and exclusion criteria.
  2. Search for studies.
  3. Select the studies
  4. Data extraction: Collect data from the selected studies
  5. Quality assessment: Assess studies for risk of bias
  6. Synthesize the findings
  7. Write up and report

A systematic review is produced by a team and not by an individual, has at least 2 people independently selecting studies from the search results to minimise bias, and can take up to 2 years to complete.


A short, online, useful plain language definition, overview and explanation of a systematic review: What is a systematic review?


Visual overview of the tasks and stages from the Medical Library at Yale University.


Before you start a systematic review ask yourself:

  • Do you have a team of at least 3 people? This is especially important for minimising bias when selecting studies from the deduplicated results list. At a minimum 2 people independently review and select items based on exclusion/inclusion criteria. The 3rd person resolves any conflicts.

  • Do you have statistical support to analyse data?

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