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Systematic Reviews

Key Elements of a Review

The following elements may be expected in a Systematic Review.

  • A clearly-focussed clinical or other research question
  • A Protocol setting out the frame of reference for the Review
  • A recognized reporting method such as PRISMA
  • Inclusion and exclusion criteria for results found in the search
  • Search strategy with required keywords, alternatives, subject headings if available; using Boolean logic and other essential literature searching tools
  • Use of at least 3-4 bibliographic databases appropriate to the subject or cross-subject, such as Medline, Embase, Web of Science, Scopus
  • Locating unpublished or 'grey' literature such as theses, clinical trials, patents

There are principles underpinning the whole process.

  • Bias avoidance - this can be through using the range of keywords and terms within a number of databases
  • Methodical or systematic procedure
  • Coverage aimed at a comprehensive retrieval of literature: or a balance of sensitivity (broadest survey) with specificity (precise focus)
  • Clear or transparent procedure, which can be reproduced by others 
  • Evidence-based focus to provide information and findings for application in clinical or other settings

For further information, see Unit 5: Systematic Reviews of the  Literature Searching For Researchers self-enrol Canvas course (requires University of Birmingham login).  The University of Bath's Systematic Reviews guide also has key information and links. Penn State University Libraries have an effective comparison of Systematic and Literature Review requirements. 

Decolonising literature searching.

  • Resources and methods outlined in University of Lancaster's Decolonising literature searching enable greater inclusion of the global south and other regions which may be disadvantaged in standard literature searches

The University of Birmingham also offers a number of relevant guides. 

Generic or topic based:

Literature searching - Medical, Dental, Health and Life Sciences

Social Sciences: Business, Economics, Education


For information about Reviews other than Systematic Reviews, go to Other Reviews.

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