Systematic Reviews

What is a Systematic Review

According to Cochrane, a non-profit organization that has become a model for conducting SRs:
“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.


In a protocol, which should be completed at the outset of the project, the team describes the “rationale for the review, the objectives; and the methods that will be used to locate, select, and critically appraise studies.

Protocols can vary in length, but they tend to include core pieces of information about the review such as:
  • Review Question
  • Poposed Timeline
  • Team members
  • Methodology
  • Search Strategies

Search Documentation

Document EVERYTHING and make sure you have kept detailed notes of your search process:
  • Databases searched and platforms used
  • Keywords, phrases, controlled vocabulary
  • Filters used (i.e. date limits, publication types)
  • Date of each search
  • Number of articles retrieved at each step

Standards and Recommendations for Search Documentation 

The IOM refers to documentation in a few sections of its standards. Nested in section 2.6 on developing a systematic review is a standard that states “describe the search strategy for identifying relevant literature“. In section 3.4, the IOM recommends that a line-by-line description of the search be included, with dates of searches in all databases. Section 5.1 identifies 14 required elements for reporting systematic reviews, the most relevant of which state that descriptions of databases and other information resources used to identify relevant studies be included, as well as the search strategy.

PRISMA has a 27 point checklist that outlines reporting recommendations. Items 7 and 8 on the 27 point checklist are directly related to search documentation. The two combined tell you exactly what to document: the databases you searched, when you searched them, any additional sources of information, and that you should present the full strategy used in at least one database.

The Cochrane Collaboration  
The Cochrane Collaboration does the same thing in a slightly different way as described in Section 6.6 of Part 2 in the Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions. Like PRISMA, Cochrane recommends that you document all of the databases you search, the period you searched and the date of the last search, any limits or restrictions on your search (like language or publication types) and any individuals or organizations you contacted. They also recommend that you include the full searches of all databases as an appendix to a published article. They also state that strategies should be copied and pasted, not typed, to avoid transcription errors.


Where to Search


The Cochrane Handbook stresses the importance of searching multiple resources in order to identify ALL relevant studies and data for analysis in a systematic review.

This is a great tool for finding primary biomedical journal articles with links to some full-text.

Cochrane Library
A collection of evidence-based medicine databases.

This is a great tool for finding education, health promotion, and psychosocial health articles along with research articles.

Dissertations & Theses Global (ProQuest)
Full-Text access to dissertations and theses. 

SPORTDiscus with Full Text
This is a great tool for finding sports medicine, fitness, coaching and education articles. 

This is a great tool for finding the psychology literature from 1887 to present.

ERIC (Ebsco interface)
This is a great tool for finding education articles.

PEDro - Physiotherapy Evidence Database
Contains abstracts of randomized controlled trials, systematic reviews and clinical practice guidelines in physical therapy. Most trials have been rated for quality.


Grey Literature

Grey Liteature
Grey literature publications are non-conventional publications. They may include, but are not limited to the following types of materials: reports -- technical, statistical, or market research reports -- theses, conference proceedings,and official documents not published commercially.

OpenGrey is a portal to European grey literature. OpenGrey covers the fields of sciences, technology, biomedical sciences, and social sciences and humanities.

NYAM Grey Literature
The New York Academy of Medicine's Grey Literature Report publishes state reports with electronic access from 1999-2016. It  contains un-indexed materials that are not produced by commercial publishers.

MedNar searches across more than 60 medical research sources, including commercial databases, medical societies, NIH resources, and other government resources.

Clinical Trials (NIH)
This registry and database provides regularly updated information about federally and privately supported clinical research from around the world. 

The EU Clinical Trials Register
The European Union Clinical Trials Register allows you to search trials conducted by European Union member states.

Exporting Citations

Exporting from PubMed

1. Send to → Citation Manager → With max being 200 
2. This creates a citations.nbib file that you can then download into a bibliographic manager

Exporting from EBSCO

1. Page Options  → Results per Page  → Select 50 -- as this will make it easier to add many citations to a folder assuming there are more than 50 records in the search results

2. Share  → Add to Folder  →  Results (1-50)  --  and continue this with each page until all records are added to the folder.

3. View Folder  → Select All  → Direct Export to RIS

Exporting from ProQuest

1. Scroll to bottom of page and select Items Per Page  → Select 100 (or less if have fewer results)

2. Select 1-100  →  Continue this with each page until all records have been added

3. Save  → RIS (works with EndNote, Citavi, etc.)

Contact Us

picture of Laura Kuo
Health Sciences Librarian
(607) 274-1197

Search Argos

Standards and Guidelines

Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions 
The Cochrane Collaboration's handbook is designed to help authors prepare Cochrane Intervention reviews.

Cochrane Standards 
Methodological expectations for Cochrane Protocols, Reviews, and updates of reviews on the effects of interventions.

Institute of Medicine Standards for Systematic Reviews 
The Institute of Medicine's detailed standards for the various components of the systematic review process.

PRISMA Statement 
Website with information, including a checklist and flowcharts, to help researchers conduct systematic reviews and meta-analyses.

Supplemental Information

Florida Internationa University's Guide on Systematic Reviews: A robust and interactive website that focuses entirely on many aspects of systematic reviews.

Different Types of Reviews in the Health Sciences: Provides a clear review of the most popular types of literature reviews conducted in the health sciences

I Want To Do a Systematic Review: Do you really want to do a systematic reivew? This is a great essay that will help you understand what a systematic review is and if you really need and want to conduct one.

Study Design 101: A simple introduction to various study designs with definitions, examples, and self-tests.

Manage Your Citations

Software for Conducting SRs

Free tool to help authors create systematic reviews, collaborate on them, maintain them over time, and get suggestions for article inclusion.

Free, open-source tool for facilitating the citation screening process when conducting systematic reviews. Requires registration.

Tool designed to help expedite the citation screening process of systematic reviews. Requires registration. Free for one review with two reviewers. More reviews or reviewers will require a subscription.

RevMan 5
Review Manager (RevMan) is downloadable software used for preparing and maintaining Cochrane Reviews, available free of charge for purely academic use.

Tell Us What You Think

Please take a moment to complete this very short survey. Your responses will help us to address any further questions you may have.