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Systematic Review Guide

This guide will help you determine which type of review is right for you and how to navigate the process.


A systematic review attempts to identify, appraise and synthesize all the empirical evidence that meets pre-specified eligibility criteria to answer a specific research question. By combining data they improve the ability to study the consistency of results. Researchers conducting systematic reviews use explicit, systematic methods that are selected with a view aimed at minimizing bias, to produce more reliable findings to inform decision making and create reproducible research. (Source: Cochrane) It is secondary research because secondary research does not involve generating data or talking to human subjects. It does not require ethical approval. 

  • Because of the methodology of systematic reviews, they can take 12-24 months to complete. 
  • Generally, two or more individuals independently review each article separately to determine whether it meets inclusion criteria. Cochrane will not publish a review that is proposed to be undertaken by a single person. 
  • Reviews of research literature using systematic and transparent methods .
  • Goal: Meant to help inform practice, creating clinical guidelines for patient care.

What is a Systematic Review?

Timeline of a Review

Month Activity
1-2 Prepare protocol
3-8 Searches for published and unpublished studies
2-3 Pilot test of eligibility criteria
3-8 Inclusion assessments
3 Pilot test of 'Risk of bias' assessment
3-10 Validity assessments
3 Pilot test of data collection
3-10 Data collection
3-10 Data entry
5-11 Follow up of missing information
8-10 Analysis
1-11 Preparation of review report
12- Keeping the review up-to-date

From: Higgins JPT, Green S (editors). Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions Version 5.1.0 [updated March 2011]. The Cochrane Collaboration, 2011. Available from



  • Brings together best available evidence.
  • Can determine causality.
  • Utilizes results from RCTs.


  • Reporting quality varies.
  • Time and resource-intensive.
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