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Systematic Reviews: Home

What is a Systematic Review?

A systematic review attempts to collate all empirical evidence that fits pre-specified eligibility criteria in order to answer a specific research question.

It uses explicit, systematic methods that are selected with a view to minimizing bias, thus providing more reliable findings from which conclusions can be drawn and decisions made.

The key characteristics of a systematic review are:

  • a clearly stated set of objectives with pre-defined eligibility criteria for studies
  • an explicit, reproducible methodology
  • a systematic search that attempts to identify all studies that meet the eligibility criteria
  • an assessment of the validity of findings of the included studies
  • a systematic presentation and synthesis of the characteristics and findings of the included studies

A Systematic Review can be either quantitative or qualitative


A quantitative systematic review will include studies that have numerical data.
qualitative systematic review derives data from observation, interviews, or verbal interactions and focuses on the meanings and interpretations of the participants.  It will include focus groups, interviews, observations and diaries.                                         

Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions - volume 6, 2019
Note.  The Methodological Expectations of Cochrane Intervention Reviews (MECIR Standards) are now incorporated into the Cochrane Handbook


How Can the Library Help?

Librarians support the systematic review process by using their searching expertise to:

  • identify existing systematic reviews on a topic
  • recommend relevant databases to search
  • develop and review search strategies in databases such as Medline, Emcare, Embase & PsycINFO
  • assist with documenting and saving search strategies
  • create EndNote libraries to manage citations
  • obtain articles
  • provide training on database searching and EndNote

The CAHS medical librarian is not able to execute the search on your behalf or collate results.

What is the Systematic Review Process?

1. Check for existing reviews or protocols

2. Formulate a search question - use PICO for a quantitative review  or PICo for qualitative review

3. Apply Inclusion and Exclusion criteria - decide 

4. Search for relevant studies.

5. Download search results to reference management software. 

6. Document the search process, including databases searched, number of citations retrieved, and date searched.

7. Critically Appraise individual studies.

8Synthesis of studies - interpret/analyse results.

9. Report on findings, documenting all steps in the systematic review process.

Difference between a systematic review and scoping review

Systematic Review Scoping Review
Focused research question with narrow parameters Research question(s) often broad
Inclusion/exclusion usually defined at outset Inclusion/exclusion can be developed post hoc
Quality filters often applied Quality not an initial priority
Detailed data extraction May or may not involve data extraction
Quantitative synthesis often performed Synthesis more qualitative and typically not quantitative

Formally assesses the quality of studies and generates a
conclusion relating to the focused research question


Used to identify parameters and gaps in a body of literature

Adapted from: Armstrong, R., Hall, B.J., Doyle, J., & Waters, E. (2011). 'Scoping the scope' of a Cochrane review. Journal of Public Health, 33(1), 147-50.

(from Curtin University Library's Systematic Review guide)

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