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Systematic Reviews Primer

An introduction to the systematic review process


Welcome to the resource guide for Systematic Reviews. Please use the menu to explore different resources.

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What's a Systematic Review?

“A systematic review attempts to identify, appraise and synthesize all the empirical evidence that meets pre-specified eligibility criteria to answer a given research question. Researchers conducting systematic reviews use explicit methods aimed at minimizing bias, in order to produce more reliable findings that can be used to inform decision making.”

- Cochrane Library, About Cochrane Systematic Reviews and Protocols

See also What is a Systematic Review?  by the Campbell Collaboration

Evidence-Based Medicine is the integration of best research evidence with clinical expertise and patient values. (Sackett DL, Straus SE, Richardson WS, et al. Evidence-based medicine: how to practice and teach EBM. 2nd ed. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 2000.)


Meta-analysis: Statistical analysis of data that has been collected in a systematic review. Not all systematic reviews include meta-analysis, but all meta-analyses are found in systematic reviews.

Scoping Reviews: Reviews that determine the general state of a medical question and locate gaps in the literature. They are more broad and less thorough than systematic reviews are.

Realist Reviews/Syntheses: Syntheses of complex social interventions to explore systematically how contextual factors influence the link between intervention and outcome (summed up in the question "what works, how, for whom, in what circumstances and to what extent?")..." Wong G, Greenhalgh T, Westhorp G, Buckingham J, Pawson R. RAMESES publication standards: realist syntheses. BMC Med. 2013 Jan 29;11:21.

Rapid Reviews: "Rapid reviews are a form of knowledge synthesis in which components of the systematic review process are simplified or omitted to produce information in a timely manner." Khangura S, Konnyu K, Cushman R, Grimshaw J, Moher D. Evidence summaries: the evolution of a rapid review approach. Syst Rev. 2012 Feb 10;1:10.

Workshop Materials

1. Standards for Systematic Review Protocols: 

Table 3 of the PRISMA-P 2015 Checklist for a list of the recommended items to include in a systematic review   protocol.

2. Systematic Review Protocol Example:

Kelly JT, Reidlinger DP, Hoffmann TC, Campbell KL. Telehealth methods to deliver multifactorial dietary interventions in adults with chronic disease: a systematic review protocol. Syst Rev. 2015 Dec 22;4:185. 

3. Systematic Review Examples:

Follow-up systematic review to above protocol: (not open access):

Kelly JT, Reidlinger DP, Hoffmann TC, Campbell KL. Telehealth methods to deliver dietary interventions in adults   with chronic disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr. 2016 Dec;104(6):1693-1702. 

Schürks M, Rist PM, Bigal ME, Buring JE, Lipton RB, Kurth T. Migraine and cardiovascular disease: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ. 2009 Oct 27;339:b3914. 

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