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Before you begin, it's important to understand how a systematic review is different from other kinds of literature reviews, and to be sure that your objectives and resources are suited to conducting a systematic review.
A clear, specific, and answerable question is essential to a successful systematic review. A well formulated question will help determine your protocol and search strategy, and help you to find relevant and valid information quickly.
Systematic reviews are a team effort! Most standards recommend, and, in some cases, require, multiple reviewers to provide the necessary expertise for a systematic review, and to help reduce bias in the search and selection process. HSL Librarians can provide guidance and assistance with the review process, and may be available as members of the review team.
It is important to plan your research in advance of beginning your systematic search. A pre-established protocol gives structure and direction to your project, helps reduce error and bias, allows the review to be registered, and may be a requirement for publication.
The goal of a systematic review evidence search is to identify all studies that contain data pertinent to the research question. A comprehensive, transparent, and reproducible search of the literature is key to the validity of a systematic review's conclusions.
Appropriate studies will need to be selected from your search results based on the inclusion and exclusion criteria defined in your protocol. Selection should be a methodical and well-documented process undertaken by at least two members of the review team to minimize bias.
Once you have selected the relevant studies to be included in your systematic review, a standardized data extraction form or template will help ensure you obtain all relevant information from each study, allowing you to examine and compare results.
Your collected data must be combined into a coherent whole and accompanied by an analysis that conveys a deeper understanding of the body of evidence. All reviews should include a qualitative synthesis, and may or may not include a quantitative synthesis (also known as a meta-analysis).