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Subject Guides

Systematic Reviews: a Practical Guide

1

Do they really expect a systematic review?

Definitions of systematic reviews vary but high quality reviews usually aim to answer a research question by:

  • identifying all relevant published and unpublished evidence on the subject of the review

  • selecting studies for inclusion

  • assessing the quality of every included study

  • synthesising the findings from all of the studies in an unbiased way

  • presenting a balanced summary of the findings.

High quality systematic reviews of complex questions can involve large teams of researchers and can take months or even years to complete. It is accepted good practice to have at least two researchers working on any systematic review to minimize bias in the selection of studies -- Cochrane Collaboration reviews for instance cannot be produced by individuals as the selection of studies for eligibility and data extraction has to be performed by at least two people independently.

The resources you have and the time available to you will dictate what level of review you can reasonably hope to complete, so if you are working alone and have a short deadline you need to discuss with your supervisor exactly what they expect you to produce.