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What is a Systematic Review?

A systematic review gathers, assesses, and synthesizes all available empirical research on a specific question using a comprehensive search method with an aim to minimize bias.

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 would meet the eligibility criteria;
  • A critical appraisal of the included studies;
  • A systematic presentation and synthesis of the characteristics and findings of the included studies.

Not sure what type of review you want to conduct?

There are many types of reviews--narrative reviewsscoping reviews, systematic reviews, integrative reviews, umbrella reviews, and others--and it's not always straightforward to choose which type of review to conduct. These Review Navigator tools ask a series of questions to guide you through the various kinds of reviews and determine the best choice for your research needs.

Limitations of a Systematic Review

  • Systematic reviews require a considerable amount of time and a team of individuals to actively contribute. 
  • Limiting reviews to one study method has the potential to narrow the utility of the findings.
  • A research question for a systematic review must be already well-covered in the primary literature.
  • Systematic reviews do not solve methodological problems in studies.
  • The reporting of previous systematic reviews may vary, making it increasingly necessary to provide clarity in methodology. 
  • Databases used to pull results may be limited by institutional access.

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