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Levy Library Research Synthesis and Systematic Review Services: Systematic Reviews

So You Want to Do a Systematic Review?

Introduction image for video: Fall 2020 Levy Library ERS Workshop Series So You Want to Do a Systematic Review?

Cochrane Interactive Learning

Books on Systematic Reviews

Tutorials and Other Resources

What Is a Systematic Review?

A systematic review is "a review that uses explicit, systematic methods to collate and synthesise findings of studies that address a clearly formulated question".1

Systematic reviews are useful for:

  • confirming current practices
  • guiding decision-making
  • informing future research

Meta-analyses, while often part of systematic reviews, are not interchangeable with them. They use statistical analysis to combine data from the studies found in the systematic review process. These studies must be homogenous enough that the data from them can be pooled together.

Limitations of systematic reviews include:

  • That since they are focused on a clearly formulated question, their conclusions only answer that particular question and cannot be generalized
  • That the synthesis of materials is only as reliable as the primary studies the review analyzed


  1. Page MJ, McKenzie JE, Bossuyt PM, Boutron I, Hoffmann TC, Mulrow CD, Shamseer L, Tetzlaff JM, Akl EA, Brennan SE, Chou R. The PRISMA 2020 statement: an updated guideline for reporting systematic reviews. BMJ. 2021 Mar 29;372.
  2. Garg AX, Hackam D, Tonelli M. Systematic review and meta-analysis: when one study is just not enough. Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology. 2008 Jan 1;3(1):253-60.

PRISMA and Other Guidelines

PRISMA is a set of reporting guidelines that are used for systematic reviews. Increasingly, journals are highly recommending or requiring the use of the PRISMA checklist and/or flow diagram when submitting a systematic review or meta-analysis manuscript for potential publication. PRISMA also has extensions that can be useful for protocols, conference abstracts, and other types of reviews.

Protocol Registration

Quality Assessment Resources

Systematic reviews include a risk of bias or quality assessment that evaluates the quality of evidence found from the studies remaining after the title and abstract and full-text screening process. There are several tools and resources that can help researchers with this step.