Skip to main content

Medicine: Systematic Reviews

This guide is designed for everyone - from new students to research staff - in the Faculty of Medicine, and anyone else who needs to use medical information resources.

What is a Systematic Review?

"A review of a clearly formulated question that uses systematic and explicit methods to identify, select, and critically appraise relevant research, and to collect and analyse data from the studies that are included in the review."

(Cochrane Reviews Glossary)

Getting started

The Systematic Review Process

What is a Protocol?

A protocol is a set of steps to be followed in a study: it will describe rationale, objectives, and methods for locating, selecting and reviewing included work.

Protocols should be registered: the process will check whether your proposed study has already been covered, and/or whether it is necessary

Defining the search strategy

A systematic review means endeavouring to locate everything that has been published fitting the criteria of your search question. Later stages in the process will filter out items that are not relevant.

Key tasks:

Establish search concepts (key ideas)

Identify as many language variants of each concept that might reasonably have been used by authors

Identify controlled vocabulary/thesaurus terms

Construct search, using all identified free-text/controlled vocabulary terms

Identify relevant databases

Run searches and save search strategies online for future update

Save records according to database

Use record management software

Save Your Searches

Every database platform (OVID, EBSCO, Web of Science etc.) lets you create your own account or database area where you can save searches, papers etc.

You can create different groups or projects within this area: some databases will then provide links from individual items to save directly into these groups.

This means that you can save a complex search that is only part-completed, or rerun a previous search to include any more recent publications.

You can also receive automatic updates when items meeting the criteria of a search are added to a database.

Follow the Register/My Account links from any database: the account area created is then common to all databases onthe same platform.

Selecting References for Inclusion in the Review

Selection of records for inclusion in the study follows a specific procedure:

remove duplicates

screen records on the basis of abstracts against set criteria

obtain full text for included records

assess full text against set criteria for inclusion in  the study

identify qualitative and quantitative studies

This is the PRISMA process for reporting, and corresponds to the methodology of the Cochrane Collaboration

Reporting the results

Tools for Analysis

Review Manager (RevMan) for preparing Cochrane Reviews: add text, build tables of study characteristics and comparisons, and present results graphically.

EPPI-Centre tools can be used to manage the whole review process

EndNote referencing software allows deduplication, grouping of results, automatic find full text option etc.

Thematic Analysis

The most common form of analysis in qualitative research. Themes are patterns across datasets important in describiing a phenomenon or intervention, and linked to a specific research question.

Managing Duplicates

Combine your search results in a single database.

Reference management software will help you identify and discard duplicates.

Remember that databases may index an author's name slightly differently: use year and title for comparison.

Retain discarded duplicates separately - reference management software can help with this too.

EndNote for Systematic Reviews

EndNote is a great tool for organising references through the various stages of the Systematic Review process.

Click the link for useful tips.

Follow @UniSotonLibrary