Systematic reviews are considered the highest levels of evidence, but only if they are done rigorously.
Johns Hopkins University offers a free online course called Introduction to Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis via Coursera.
This course will "introduce methods to perform systematic reviews and meta-analysis of clinical trials. [It] will cover how to formulate an answerable research question, define inclusion and exclusion criteria, search for the evidence, extract data, assess the risk of bias in clinical trials, and perform a meta-analysis."
1. Determine your reason for doing a systematic review and why it is needed.
2. Check to see whether there are recent systematic reviews on this topic already.
3. Form your systematic review team. Include a librarian experienced in systematic reviews.
4. Write an answerable research question.
5. Agree on specific inclusion and exclusion criteria
6. Complete a systematic review protocol.
7. Register your protocol. Consider publishing it.
8. Choose citation management software.
9. Create your Medline search strategy using a combination of medical subject headings and keywords. Have the search strategy peer reviewed by another experienced librarian.
10. Complete an exhaustive search for studies, including at least 3 databases and grey literature.
11. Perform data extraction.
12. Assess the quality of the results.
13. Synthesize the results. Perform meta-analysis if applicable.
14. Interpret the findings.
15. Write your paper.
Systematic reviews are done with a team of reviewers and they take a while to complete - at least 9 to 12 months depending on the topic. If you don’t have the time for such a large undertaking, consider carrying out a literature review or rapid review. LINK to Types of Reviews.
You may also consider using PredicTER which is a software tool to help researchers and practitioners estimate the length of time necessary to complete a systematic review (SR) or systematic map (SM).
A systematic review cannot be conducted by one person. You need a team that includes:
An information specialist trained in systematic review searches plays a crucial role in carrying out a comprehensive and unbiased search for the evidence.
Leading organizations such as the Cochrane Collaboration, Institute of Medicine (IOM), Centre for Reviews and Dissemination (CRD), and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) all recommend including an information specialist as a member of the review team.
"…it is recommended that review authors seek guidance from a healthcare librarian or information specialist, where possible with experience of supporting systematic reviews" (Cochrane Handbook of Systematic Reviews, 6.3.1)