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Writing a Systematic Review

What is a Systematic Review?

A systematic review is a form of literature review that is "designed to locate, appraise, and synthesize the best available evidence relating to a specific research question in order to provide informative and evidence-based answers" (Boland et al., 2017, p. 2). 

The information included in a systematic review can be combined with professional judgment to establish areas of future research or to implement new interventions, practices, or policies. Systematic reviews will always include the following: 

  • well-defined research question or topic with clear eligibility criteria for inclusion of studies
  • transparent steps and reproducible methodology
  • a systematic literature search that attempts to include all studies that could fit the stated inclusion criteria
  • critical appraisal of the selected studies
  • analysis and synthesis of relevant data and findings from the included studies

SOURCE: Boland, A., Cherry, G., & Dickson, R. (Eds.). (2017). Doing a systematic review: A student's guide. SAGE Publications. 

Steps in the Process

Organization and preparation are key to the completion of a systematic review. Before you begin, consider the steps in the process. If you're planning to submit your systematic review on a deadline, work backward from the deadline to establish your timeline. The following pages on this guide will provide more detail on each of these steps. 

  1. Formulate your review question or topic
  2. Conduct exploratory searches and find existing systematic reviews related to your topic
  3. Develop a protocol, and define eligibility criteria
  4. Develop and execute search strategy to find literature
  5. Screen titles and abstracts to weed out irrelevant literature
  6. Obtain full-text copies of relevant literature
  7. Apply inclusion/exclusion criteria after reading full-text papers
  8. Assess each study for quality of methods
  9. Extract relevant data from each study
  10. Analyze and synthesize extracted data
  11. Write and edit your findings in standard structure, including methods and results

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.