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Systematic Reviews

What is a Systematic Review?

A systematic review is a literature review, performed using a rigorous and clearly documented search strategy and selection process, that attempts to find and synthesize all evidence that fits predetermined criteria in order to answer a specific clinical question.

A systematic review is a scientific investigation in itself. It requires:

  • A clearly defined research question and research plan.
  • A comprehensive, transparent, and reproducible methodology, designed to minimize bias.
  • Critical evaluation and assessment of bias of all included studies.
  • An in-depth report outlining the process of finding and appraising literature, extracting data, measuring bias, and analyzing results.

Systematic reviews can be used to:

  • Provide high level summaries of the available evidence.
  • Inform health care decision-making.
  • Keep clinicians updated.
  • Serve as the basis of clinical practice guidelines.

Standards and Guidelines

A number of standards have been developed for the conduct and reporting of systematic reviews to ensure that every published systematic review is clear, accurate, and fully replicable. Following one of these standards can serve as a guideline for appropriate methodology, and may be a requirement for formal recognition as a systematic review by publishers and repositories.

IOM Guide

IOM Standards

The Institute of Medicine's recommended standards for developing high-quality systematic reviews of comparative effectiveness research.

Cochrane Handbook

Cochrane Handbook

The Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions.


PRISMA Guidelines

A statement of the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses.

CRD Guide

CRD Guidelines

The Centre for Reviews and Dissemination's guidance for undertaking systematic reviews in health care.

BEME Guide

BEME Guide

The Best Evidence Medical Education Collaboration's guide to conducting a best evidence systematic review.

AHRQ's Methods Guide

AHRQ Guide

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality's guide for effectiveness and comparative effectiveness reviews.