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Systematic Review Guide



The goal is to keep records in the most systematic way possible so that your work can be reproduced. That means you should keep detailed records of the exact search you used for each database and that all your searches should have an end date so that the results can be reproduced exactly every time. It will also make it easier for you to update your search before publication.

Reporting the Search Methods

You must keep detailed records of each search, with the date and numbers of results, in addition to saving searches in your personal accounts (like your My NCBI account in PubMed).

Many published systematic reviews include the detailed search strategy for at least one database in the article's appendix.  Doing so is one of the items on the PRISMA Checklist (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses).

NEW ! In January 2021, a PRISMA extension for reporting literature searches was published with a checklist that states that all full search strategies should be included in the manuscript: "Include the search strategies for each database and information source, copied and pasted exactly as run."

For details, see the elaboration article: Rethlefsen, M.L., Kirtley, S., Waffenschmidt, S. et al. PRISMA-S: an extension to the PRISMA Statement for Reporting Literature Searches in Systematic Reviews. Syst Rev 10, 39 (2021).

PRISMA Flow Diagram

The flow diagram depicts the flow of information through the different phases of a systematic review. It shows the number of records identified, included and excluded, and the reasons for exclusions.

Here is a template of the PRISMA flow diagram.

Prisma Flow diagram example


We recommend that you use the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) Statement for reporting all of your systematic review methodology.  It has a checklist for all of the items to include in your publication.

For a narrative synthesis, see the Synthesis Without Meta-analysis (SWiM) Guideline and its nine item checklist. 


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