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Systematic & Scoping Reviews : Methodology Behind the Search Strategies

This guide is primarily for students and other researchers conducting systematic reviews and scoping reviews for coursework, thesis/dissertation requirements, or for other research purposes.

What are systematic reviews

“A systematic review attempts to identify, appraise and synthesize all the empirical evidence that meets pre-specified eligibility criteria to answer a given research question. Researchers conducting systematic reviews use explicit methods aimed at minimizing bias, in order to produce more reliable findings that can be used to inform decision making.”

- Cochrane Library, About Cochrane Systematic Reviews 

A systematic review is not the same as a narrative review or a literature review. Unlike other kinds of reviews, systematic reviews must be as thorough and unbiased as possible, and must also make explicit how the search was conducted.


Source of video: Cochrane

Steps in a systematic review

The usual steps that are followed ina  systematic review are:

  1. Determine the research question
  2. Assemble the research team
  3. Determine if there are any registered (in process) or published systematic reviews on your topic
  4. Develop & register the protocol for the study
  5. Search for studies (in a comprehensive manner to reduce bias and be reproducible)
  6. Select studies to include based on inclusion/exclusion criteria in the protocol
  7. Extract & analyze data
  8. Interpret & present/publish results
  9. Update review as require

This article outlines the steps in performing a systematic review:  Umscheid, C.A. 2013. A Primer on performing systematic reviews and meta-analyses. Clin Infect Dis 57(5): 725-734. doi: 10.1093/cid/cit333.

Standards/guidelines to follow when conducting a systematic review

Finding What Works in Health Care: Standards for Systematic Reviews
Institute of Medicine (IOM), 2011


Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions
Cochrane Collaboration, 2011

  • guidance on how to prepare a Cochrane systematic review
  • Available online: Cochrane Handbook


Systematic Reviews: CRD's guidance for undertaking reviews in health care
Centre for Reviews and Dissemination (University of York)


Campbell Collaboration Policies and Guidelines Series
Systematic reviews of social interventions


JBI Reviewers Manual
Joanna Briggs Institute guide to conducting JBI systematic reviews

Guidelines for reporting a systematic review

Guidance on reporting your systematic review is found in Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses: the PRISMA Statement.

The above link provides access to:

  • PRISMA checklist
  • PRISMA flow diagram
  • explanation and elaboration documents/articles

Books on systematic reviews