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Systematic Reviews for the Health Sciences: Introduction


Welcome to the Systematic Review Research Guide provided by the UIC Library of the Health Sciences. 

This guide is an introduction to systematic reviews and the process needed to undertake one. To learn more about potential librarian support for a review, please visit the "Librarian Support" tab.

Timeline for a Systematic Review

Typical Timeline

Month         Activity

1 - 2            Preparation of Protocol

2 - 3            Eligibility requirements

3 - 8            Searches for  studies

3 - 8            Inclusion assessments

3 - 10          Data collection & entry

5 - 11           Missing information

8 - 10         Analysis

1 - 11         Preparation of Report

12 -            Updates

From:  Cocharane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions

Typology of Reviews

A systematic review "is a scientific investigation that focuses on a specific question and uses explicit, prespecified scientific methods to identify, select, assess, and summarize the findings of similar but separate studies." [1]

A meta-analysis is "way of combining data from many different research studies. A meta-analysis is a statistical process that combines the findings from individual studies." [2] 

A scoping review is a preliminary assessment of potential size and scope of available research literature. It aims to identify nature and extent of research evidence, including ongoing research. [3]

A rapid review tends to address more current matters in contrast to other combined retrospective and current approaches.  It may offer new perspectives on issue or point out area for further research. [3]

A literature review is a generic term used to describe published material that provide examination of recent or current literature.  It covers a wide range of subjects at various levels of completeness and comprehensiveness. [3]

For further discussion of different review types, we recommend viewing this webinar recording: An Overview of Literature Review Types

[1]  IOM.  Finding What Works in Health Care:  Standards for Systematic Reviews


[3] Grant MJ, Booth A. A typology of reviews: an analysis of 14 review types and associated methodologies. Health Info Libr J. 2009 Jun;26(2):91-108. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-1842.2009.00848.x. Review. PubMed PMID: 19490148


Getting Started

What to consider when getting started

Time:  Allow enough time!  (See Timeline Box)

Team:  Assemble a time that includes subject experts related to the topic; librarians who can develop comprehensive search strategies, identify databases to search, and document all search activity and findings; reviewers who can screen abstracts and read the full text; statistician who can assist with analysis of the data; and project leader who will coordinate and write the final report.

Written Protocol:  Write a protocol that outlines the methodology of the review, including rationale, key questions, inclusion/exclusion criteria, literature search for both published and unpublished studies, data abstraction and management, assessment of methodological quality of studies, data synthesis, and grading the evidence for each key question.

Literature Searching:  Identify systematic reviews that may already address the key questions; identify appropriate databases and conduct a comprehensive literature search that can be documented and duplicated.

Citation management:  Use a citation management product such as RefWorks or EndNote to help manage the citations from the literature search.

Guidelines for Reporting:  Select the appropriate guideline for reporting your review for publication.