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Systematic Reviews: Where to start

What are systematic reviews?

You may be doing a Systematic Review as part of postgraduate study, to help with a grant proposal or as part of a larger research bid. Whether you are a complete novice or an old hand, asking librarians to guide and advise will save you time and energy in the long run.

"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)

Systematic Reviews are often conducted in the fields of health, psychology or education; the increase in cross disciplinary research may find other fields are also involved. 

Please read the following article, How to conduct a systematic review: A narrative literature review

The Systematic Review Toolbox aims to help reviewers find appropriate tools based on how they provide support for the systematic review process 


Steps in Systematic Reviews

Depending on who you talk to, undertaking systematic reviews can involve from 5-9 steps. We have used the 10 steps identified in the introductory material in "Doing a systematic review" edited by Boland, A., Cherry, G and Dickson, R (2017)

  1. Planning your review
  2. Performing scoping searches, identifying review question and writing  protocol
  3. Literature Searching
  4. Screening titles and abstracts
  5. Obtaining papers
  6. Selecting full text articles
  7. Data extraction
  8. Quality assessment
  9. Analysis and synthesis
  10. Writing up, editing and disseminating

As librarians we can help with Steps 2, 3 and 5. We can also suggest resources to help with the other steps.

Not sure?

Not sure if you are doing a systematic review or a literature search in a systematic way? There is fine line between them but generally if you are an undergraduate you will be doing the latter. If you need help please contact your relevant Academic Engagement Librarian by finding the relevant subject guide and following the relevant email link or drop in to the Academic Skills Hub.

The following highlights some some key differences between a systematic review and a literature search

systematic review versus Literature review

Where to find systematic reviews

How we can help you

We can offer help face to face, by email or phone. You can use our Training pages for links to resources

  • Advice on creating your search strategy
  • Review of current search strategy
  • Guidance on resources to use

Please book via Deskside training 

We also offer a 2 hour training session bookable via Gradbook and Staff book for all staff and PGRs. Called "Systematic Reviews: searching the literature". You can expect to learn:

• What is a systematic review?

• Key features of the systematic review process

• Building your search strategy (identifying key terms and synonyms)

• Literature search techniques (using free-text, controlled vocabulary, field codes)

• Managing your results

As a prerequisite: you should be confident with the key subject databases in your research area… Medline, CINAHL, PsycINFO, ERIC etc. If you are unsure whether this course is appropriate please email

The Southampton Statistical Sciences Research Institute (S3RI) offer courses on Medical Statistics & Modelling- including Meta analysis, Design of Experiments and Survey & Official Statistics.

Overview of Systematic Reviews


Systematic Reviews in Health - an introductory training day

Southampton Health Technology Assessment Centre (SHTAC)

SHTAC offer the above course covering the key stages of a systematic review, from scoping the research questions to disseminating results and recommendations. The course is designed for health professionals, academics and decision makers with an understanding of health and related search. 

Next course

For further details and to book see the SHTAC training page

Systematic Reviews and Meta-analysis: short course

University of Sheffield School of Health and Related Research (ScHARR)

ScHARR offer a 3 day short course on Systematic Reviews and Meta-analysis

Next course

For further details see ScHARR Short Courses

Books to read