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Writing a Systematic Review

Why Search for Existing Reviews?

Before you start your review, explore existing reviews. You don't have to reinvent the wheel.

Look to existing reviews as guides that can: 

  • provide examples for how to conduct your own systematic review
    • eligibility criteria you may want to incorporate into your own protocol
    • relevant databases to include in your search strategy
    • relevant search terms you may want to use or adapt (note that if you use part of a search strategy from a published review, this should be cited)
  • help you to identify relevant articles from related reviews
  • demonstrate where your review fits into the scholarly conversation and enable you to acknowledge the existence of related reviews in your introduction

Is there another systematic review that has already been published on your topic? If so, there may still be a reason for you to write your own, such as:

  • The existing systematic review is old, new research has been published, and thus it is in need of updating
  • The quality of the existing systematic review is methodologically suspect. Use a critical appraisal tool such as the JBI "Checklist for Systematic Reviews and Research Syntheses" to evaluate quality.
  • The existing systematic review focuses on different outcomes or uses different eligibility criteria than your systematic review will use.

How to find Systematic Reviews

Tips when searching for systematic reviews related to your topic: 

  1. Use broader search terms than you will include in your own search protocol. This will help you find related reviews that may not explicitly match your research questions but will still be useful.
  2. The term "systematic review" will not always appear in the title or abstract of an article. 
  3. In some databases you can limit the article search results to those using the systematic review methodology. Look for publication type filters or methodology filters on the search page or the results page. Relevant publication types include systematic reviews, meta analysis, meta synthesis.
  4. Use a search string like the following if the database does not have a way to limit to these types of publications. It also might help you catch additional reviews of interest even in a database that has publication type filters: "systematic review" OR "research synthesis" OR "synthesis of research" OR "meta analysis" OR meta-analysis

Attribution

This guide was adapted from Systematic Reviews by University of Texas Libraries (https://guides.lib.utexas.edu/systematicreviews) which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic License.