Systematic Reviews FAQ

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 6–18 months
  • Team Requirement: Minimum of 3 people

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 the difference between a systematic and a scoping review?

Systematic reviews can be broadly defined as a type of research synthesis that are conducted by review groups with specialized skills, who set out to identify and retrieve international evidence that is relevant to a particular question or questions and to appraise and synthesize the results of this search to inform practice, policy and in some cases, further research*.

Scoping reviews are an ideal tool to determine the scope or coverage of a body of literature on a given topic and give clear indication of the volume of literature and studies available as well as an overview (broad or detailed) of its focus*.

See a comparison table.

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.

 

*Both definitions above are provided by: Munn, Z., Peters, M.D.J., Stern, C. et al. Systematic review or scoping review? Guidance for authors when choosing between a systematic or scoping review approach. BMC Med Res Methodol 18, 143 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12874–018–0611-x

 

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 request authorship of the resulting article.

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, administrative support, and medical librarian.
  • Time (start to finish): 6–18 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 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.

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.

 

Where do I register my protocol?

You only need to register in one location. PROSPERO is an international systematic review protocol repository.

PROSPERO no longer accepts scoping review protocols. We recommend registering scoping review protocols at Protocols.IO.

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.

 

At what point do I register my protocol?

Complete your protocol. Post before you do the search whose results you will save for screening. Use PRISMA-P to outline your protocol. The goal is for the work proposed in the protocol will match up well with what actually submit for publication. PROSPERO wants you to post your protocol before you start data abstraction.

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.

 

Can I also publish my protocol?

Yes. 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 named “Systematic Reviews” publish systematic review protocol and scoping review 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.

 

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 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.

Have more questions? Contact us