This page is inspired by the book, Boland, A., Cherry, M.G. and Dickson, R. (2017) Doing a systematic review: a student's guide. 2nd edn. London: SAGE. We have presented the systematic review workflow as a 10 step process, or roadmap. Remember! The process may not always be this linear and you may need to go back to start some of the stages again.
If you are doing a literature search in a systematic way (Systematized review) or working with a team on a Systematic Review, please join our new UoS teams site where you can ask questions and share best practice.
This is a training page based on the face to face course that we deliver. Please look at the Pre-Introduction video below. (7.52 mins). All videos have captions by watching in full screen.
We will be running face to face "Systematic Reviews: Searching the literature" courses in the second semester of 21/22. They are available on the 20th January, 21st March and the 13th May. Please book by PGR Manager/ Staffbook or email email@example.com. You can test your learning by completing these 10 short exercises.
Post your questions on our padlet. We would like a different perspective in order to improve so please do add a comment/question.
Stop Press ** You can get print copies of Boland and Cherry from the Hartley Library - it is open now **
Carrying out a systematic review will take longer than you might anticipate so planning is important. Consider the time and resources available to you. Consider using a Gantt chart as this will help you plan and monitor your progress. Take a look at this brief LinkedIn Learning course called 'Learning Gantt charts'. Please note: You do not need to connect your LinkedIn account. You will need your university username and password.
There is a also an online course from John Hopkins University called an Introduction to Systematic Reviews and Meta Analysis. It is very comprehensive and takes about 13 hours to complete with a mixture of videos and exercise to do. It is free.
Include time to investigate the different databases and platforms that may cover your topic as you are likely to use more than one in your review.
Recorded presentations below, we suggest you watch them in this order.
As soon as you have an idea for your systematic review topic, you should run a scoping search. This will enable you to see what has been published already, if anything. This stage will take you longer than you imagine, so give yourself plenty of time. Please watch video below on Starting/Scoping first for some context.
If you are new to searching health and medicine databases or would like a refresher, please listen to a Basic and Advanced recording of a search in CINAHL. The advanced recording covers using MESH or subject headings.
Basic recording 27 Mins
Advanced recording 10 Mins
Questions to ask yourself:
Recorded presentations below
Having completed your scoping searches you should now be aware of all the terms that you want to include and these should be finalised. We would recommend refining your search strategy (the terms and how they will be combined) on one database and platform, checking that all members of the team agree that it is complete and thorough, before running it on another database. Moving to a different database may involve translating the search strategy and syntax, for example, identifying the thesaurus term used or changing the symbol for truncation (* to $). Please see this useful guide from University of Alberta on how to do this
The recorded presentations below include
Before you start your final search process and importing into your reference managment software. Please Test, Test and Test again. Short video (3.32 min) on how to do this and why so important.
When you have completed your literature searches, you will want to remove any duplicate records and start to screen the results. You will be using your inclusion and exclusion criteria to select or exclude articles. You will need to keep a record of this process to enable you to produce the PRISMA flow diagram.
Review the records first, scanning the title of the article, the abstract and any subject descriptors, constantly referring back to your exclusion/inclusion criteria.
You may find it helpful to use the reference management software package called EndNote to manage this process. Our EndNote for systematic reviews page will show you how to export large numbers of results.
You can organise your search results into groups by database name, EndNote will help remove the duplicates, you can then export the remaining results for screening into Excel, or the free online screening program called Rayyan. Please see this comprehensive guide on how to use it by McGill University
If the journal title is not available please submit an Inter-Library Loan (ILL) request via WebCat; the process is...
Further information about the ILL service can be found here
This video (7 .35) takes you through the process of finding full text. If you are using a reference manager you may be able to use it to find full text as long as you are 'on campus' (GlobalProtect VPN)
Once you complete the screening of the records and have the full-text of the papers you want to review, apply your inclusion and exclusion criteria again as your read the full article. An approach you may want to consider is to read the abstract, the introduction and conclusion and only then read the whole paper, if it still meets the inclusion criteria.
Data extraction can start when you have selected your articles for review. You will need to extract and examine the data. For a full explanation, look at chapter 5, Higgins JPT, Thomas J, Chandler J. Collecting data. In: Li T, Higgins JPT, Deeks JJ, et al. (eds.) Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions. 2nd ed. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Blackwell; 2019 p109-41. https://training.cochrane.org/handbook/current/chapter-05.
Take a look at the video on the companion site to Boland A, Cherry MG, Dickson R. Doing a systematic review: a student's guide. 2nd ed. London: SAGE; 2017. called, "Chapter 6: Data Extraction: Where Do I Begin?".
Another chapter 6! But this time in Bettany-Saltikov J. How to do a systematic literature review in nursing a step-by-step guide. Maidenhead: Open University Press; 2012. Working with your primary papers gives a clear introduction to the process, and includes an example data extraction template that you can adapt.
Critical appraisal tools
See also our section on critical appraisal on our sister page - scroll to the bottom of the page - in "Equally important" section.
Useful resource for reviewing studies with diverse designs = QATSDD.
There are some guides to help you understand which tools to use
Overview of tool from Himmelfarb Health Sciences Library
Article looking at tools used in Prospero.
Very useful overview from National Health and Medical Research Council Australia
Please see useful website that give overview of the Cochrane tools.