Systematic Reviews FAQ

How should I prepare for a consultation?

Before meeting with a librarian to begin discussing a review, do the following:

  • Consider types of reviews: See our FAQ below "What is the difference between a systematic and scoping review" to determine if a systematic review is what you are aiming to accomplish. 
  • Identify your team: A team should be 3-5 people, including the PI, content expert, 2 reviewers, an operations manager, and a librarian.
  • Review your team's time commitment: A systematic review typically takes 12–24 months. If your team does not have this timeline in mind, consider another type of review instead.
  • Review the steps required to complete a systematic review. (See applicable FAQ below).

UCSF research librarians are here to provide support. Check out the Systematic Review Guide to learn more about the full process and to get started.

 

What should I do after a consultation?

After meeting with a librarian and confirming which review is right for you, do the following:

 

What is the difference between a systematic and a scoping review?

Literature review - a generic term that refers to published materials that provide examination of recent or current literature.

Scoping review - Preliminary assessment of potential size and scope of available research literature.

Systematic review - Seeks to systematically search for, appraise and synthesis research evidence, often adhering to guidelines on the conduct of a review.

For in depth comparisons, see "A typology of reviews: an analysis of 14 review types and associated methodologies" by Maria Grant and Andrew Booth. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1471-1842.2009.00848.x

To learn more about scoping reviews, look at guidelines and frameworks: 

    • "Scoping studies: towards a methodological framework" - Arksey & O'Malley
    • "Scoping studies: advancing the methodology" Levac
    • "PRISMA for Scoping Reviews" PRISMA-ScR

UCSF research librarians are here to provide support. Check out the Systematic Review Guide to learn more about the full process and to get started.

 

What is a systematic review?

A systematic review synthesizes data from articles into a summary review which has the potential to make conclusions more certain. Systematic reviews are considered the highest level of evidence in evidence-based medicine (EBM) evidence pyramid. They are often great places to begin to learn about a topic.

  • Time Commitment: Typically 12–24 months
  • Team Requirement: Typically 3-5 people, including the PI, content expert, 2 reviewers, an operations manager, and a librarian.

UCSF research librarians are here to provide support. Check out the Systematic Review Guide to learn more about the full process and to get started.

I have a systematic review assignment from my school. What help can I get from the library?

UCSF research librarians are here to provide support. We will provide one consultation session and a limited number of follow-up email questions.

Check out the Systematic Review Guide to learn more about our services and to get started.

 

I want to work on a systematic or scoping review for publication. What help can I get from the library?

UCSF research librarians are here to provide support. We will provide one consultation session and a limited number of follow up questions by email as a baseline. For those who wish full involvement of a librarian in a systematic review, we require authorship on any resulting scholarship.

Visit our description of services to learn more about how we can help and what to expect.

 

I want to do a systematic review, what do I need to be successful?

We recommend that you consider topic, team, and time.

  • Topic: A significant question is being asked and answered. The topic is not the subject of a recent review and is not being worked on currently by others.
  • Team: Minimum of 3 people for publication. You will need at least a primary reviewer and a secondary reviewer. Other roles to consider include a subject expert, methodologist/statistician, operations manager, and medical librarian.
  • Time (start to finish): 12–24 months. The time frame may be longer.

UCSF research librarians are here to provide support. Check out the Systematic Review Guide to learn more about the full process and to get started.

What are the steps of a systematic review?

A brief overview of the systematic review process includes:

  1. Identify your question
  2. Write a protocol
  3. Perform search in all resources listed in your protocol
  4. Two people independently review each the title and abstract of each article for inclusion based on criteria set in protocol. Reconcile differences of opinion.
  5. Review the full text of the articles included from step 4. This review should also be performed independently and in duplicate. Reconcile differences of opinion.
  6. Extract data from final set of articles identified for analysis.
  7. Assess each article for quality/risk of bias (ROB) using appropriated tools.
  8. Write manuscript, select appropriate journals, submit for publication, prepare for editing.

UCSF research librarians are here to provide support. Check out the Systematic Review Guide to learn more about the full process and to get started.

Do I need to register my systematic or scoping review protocol?

Yes. This is a best practice and should be considered a standard. Writing a protocol organizes your project. Posting a protocol establishes your intent to do the work to others.

You only need to register in one location. PROSPERO is an international systematic review protocol repository. (Note: PROSPERO no longer accepts scoping review protocols.)
You can also publish your protocol. To find journals in PubMed which accept protocols, search "protocol[ti] AND “scoping review”[ti]" to find likely journals. In Embase the equivalent is "protocol:ti AND scoping review:ti". You can use the same approach to find systematic review protocols.
For example, the journal “Systematic Reviews” publishes systematic review protocols and scoping review protocols.
Note: Protocols written for student projects do not need to be registered.

UCSF research librarians are here to provide support. Check out the Systematic Review Guide to learn more about the full process and to get started.

 

How do I figure out if someone has already done or is doing the review I want to do?

Search in PubMed for your topic and limit to systematic reviews. You can do the equivalent in Embase and Google Scholar. If the review is more than 3–5 years old it may be due for an update.

Check for protocols. Searching for your topic will help you see what work is going on and may lead to literature and information that will be of use to you as you plan your work. Try:

UCSF research librarians are here to provide support. Check out the Systematic Review Guide to learn more about the full process and to get started.

 

What tools and guidelines will I need to consider for my systematic review?

Use a reference manager (we suggest EndNote or Zotero). You may wish to consider use of specialized tools like Rayyan, Covidence, DistillerSR, Eppi-4, and others. Depending on the type of data and the type of analysis you plan, additional specialized software may help for qualitative, semantic, or statistical analysis.

  • What is Rayyan? This is a free web-based resource from the Qatari Computing Research Institute (QCRI). Rayyan saves time by organizing title and abstract screening for a systematic review for one or more reviewers. Reviewers are blind to one another. Each reviewer may add notes. See tips.
  • What are Covidence, DistillerSR, and EPPI-4? These are three of the best-known systematic review software. Each costs money and UCSF Library does not have institutional subscriptions for any of these products. Each will help with duplicate removal, title and abstract screening, full text screening and data abstraction. They vary in their ability to perform quality assessment and generate graphs or tables. All are time saving.
  • What other tools might be useful to help with synthetic reviews? Excel and Google Sheets/Forms, RedCap, other spreadsheet or database software can help with full text screening, data abstraction and quality assessment.
Do you have examples of good systematic reviews and/or protocols?

Yes. You can consult these examples of a UCSF-authored systematic review, scoping review, and protocol

UCSF research librarians are here to provide support. Check out the Systematic Review Guide to learn more about the full process and to get started.

Have more questions? Contact us