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Systematic Reviews: Introduction to systematic reviews

What is a systematic review?

Note: To access this 12 page guide, click on the link above, then click on the Online resource tab, and you will see the password required to access this pdf.

What is a systematic review?

Authors: Julie Glanville and Rachael McCool


Systematic reviews have increasingly become the ‘gold standard’ in reviewing. They aim to adopt a scientific approach to identifying and consolidating all the available evidence pertaining to a specific research question and to minimise bias.

Systematic reviews should be carried out according to a predefined protocol that sets out the scope of the systematic review and details of the methodology to be used throughout the review.

Handbooks and other books on systematic reviews

Handbooks on conducting systematic reviews in health and social sciences

Other books on systematic reviews are available in the James Hardiman Librray - see this selective listing 

See also a listing of books on Meta-analysis available in the library.

Systematic literature search

A systematic literature search is a literature review on a database (such as Medline) which demonstrates that you have compiled a list of appropriate search terms and includes the structure of your search history which provides the evidence on which your assignment is based.

This is a less rigorous process than a systematic review. A systematic review usually covers a wider scope; you would be expected to look at all the available research in the area in question. For example, you would be expected to visit the Library if articles were only held in hard copy format, and where necessary obtain articles not held by the Library.

You may be told that you need to conduct a systematic review when in fact you just need to perform a literature search in a systematic manner. Usually at undergraduate level you would not be expected to exhaust every avenue of information and find every article in your research area.

If you are unsure about the differences between a systematic review and a literature review, this very useful document summarises them;


What’s in a Name? The difference between a Systematic Review and a Literature Review and Why it Matters. By Lynn Kysh, Information Services Librarian, University of Southern California, Norris Medical Library, MLGSCA Poster 2013 – CC-BY.

Knowing the difference

It is important that you understand the difference between the two because the parameters of “searching systematically” are far more flexible than those for a systematic review.

Your tutors will often expect you to perform a systematic search on a database to encourage best academic practice. This also reduces reliance on Google which does not show how you arrived at the set of references detailed in your bibliography. Your reference lists are supposed to reflect the arguments presented in your assignments; the reference lists provide the evidence.

Evidence-based assignments do not always have to be systematic reviews, and most undergraduate assignments are not systematic reviews. There are lots of different types of reviews which vary slightly in methodology. One of the characteristics they share is that all of them have a basic structure that has been given some thought by the person writing the report. Thus, when marking your work your tutors are looking at the strengths, weaknesses and depth of your arguments and assessing the evidence you have used to back your arguments up.

10 tips for Systematic Reviews from University of York


10 tips for systematic reviews from University of York library

These pages are a brief introduction on how to conduct a systematic review. 

Publishing your systematic review


There are various tools which may help you to select a journal.

Links and information about using Ulrichsweb, Journal Citation Reports, and Scopus journal analyser tool are available in this webpage: Selecting where to publish

See also this journal:

Systematic Reviews (Journal)

Systematic Reviews 

Aims and scope

Systematic Reviews encompasses all aspects of the design, conduct and reporting of systematic reviews. The journal publishes high quality systematic review products including systematic review protocols, systematic reviews related to a very broad definition of health, rapid reviews, updates of already completed systematic reviews, and methods research related to the science of systematic reviews, such as decision modeling. The journal also aims to ensure that the results of all well-conducted systematic reviews are published, regardless of their outcome.

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