Systematic review searching
Consulting a librarian
Before meeting with us, we ask that you carefully consider the following questions.
Is a systematic review required?
Systematic review or ‘literature review’?
A systematic review is a specific research methodology with well-defined, internationally accepted characteristics. These are clearly described in the Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions. Please check the handbook definition before proceeding. If you don’t intend to follow the process outlined, you may only need assistance with a literature review. If so, your liaison librarian is the best person to contact.
Has a systematic review already been done on your topic?
Before embarking on the laborious process of a systematic review, it’s important to first check that a review hasn’t already been done on your topic. Use the databases most appropriate to your subject area and/or Google Scholar to check for systematic reviews in your area. You should also check for registered systematic review protocols lodged with Prospero, JBI EBP Database, and the Cochrane Library. Your liaison librarian can help you with this.
Are you familiar with existing standards/methodologies for systematic reviews?
There are established standards and methods for conducting and reporting systematic reviews. Familiarising yourself with these in advance of beginning the review will ensure you produce a review of acceptable quality.
• The Institute of Medicine’s standards for systematic reviews
• Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA statement)
• CASP systematic review critical appraisal checklist
• Cochrane Handbook (2011 ed.)
• JBI Reviewers’ Manual (2014 ed.)
• The EPPI-Centre’s ‘An introduction to systematic reviews’
Do you have the time and resources required to conduct a high quality systematic review?
The realistic timeframe
A systematic review is a large, complex undertaking that will most probably take many months to complete. For this reason, librarian assistance can only be offered on the understanding that:
- Comprehensive searches may take several weeks, or even months, for a librarian to finalise. The time required is largely dependent on the complexity of the topic and the number of resources to be included in the review.
- The librarian may not be able to take on systematic review projects during peak teaching periods. This usually means at the start of each semester.
- The librarian will prioritise systematic review projects based on the order in which they are initiated as well as any pre-negotiated deadlines.
Expectations regarding the amount of data produced
Unless your topic is very narrow or newly emerging, you can reasonably expect to have to download, deduplicate, and review for relevance hundreds, if not thousands, of citations once the searches have been executed. This can be a time-consuming process and one that researchers often forget to factor into their overall timeframe.
Access to, and familiarity with, citation management software is crucial to systematic review work. EndNote is the product made available to Flinders University staff and students. It can be accessed on-campus and/or downloaded onto a personal computer. The Student Learning Centre provides EndNote training if you are not familiar with the product. If you are collaborating with a librarian as co-author, the librarian will manage all data processes. He/she may discuss with you the possibility of sharing files using FLO, Dropbox, or Google Docs.
Are you part of a team?
Involvement of the review supervisor/team
If you are undertaking a systematic review under supervision or as part of a team, we strongly recommend that your supervisor and/or co-investigator(s) attend the initial consultation. The draft search strategy cannot be translated and executed until the research supervisor/team has signed off on it. All email correspondence and documentation produced along the way must be shared with research supervisors and team members.
Is your systematic review intended for publication?
If the goal is to publish your review, to which journal do you intend to submit?
The editorial policy of your target journal may set out clear guidelines on the submission of systematic reviews. These guidelines may influence your methodology and how you report the review.
Should the librarian be co-author?
Co-authorship makes the librarian a visible member of your review team. This can convey credibility and rigor to grant-awarding bodies and journal editors scrutinising your search methodology and results. It also removes a burden of work from the other members of the team. The additional support provided by co-authoring librarians is detailed at the start of this document.
Will your systematic review inform your PhD research?
If your systematic review is intended to inform PhD research, talk to your librarian about setting up autoalerts to automatically harvest any new studies published during the course of your candidature.
Flinders College and Research Services Librarians are here to support Flinders Researchers.
You may benefit from a personalised research consultation if you are undertaking a Systematic or Literature Review and are:
- needing guidance with search tools and planning your search strategy
- unsure whether you have located all relevant resources
- wanting assistance to identify and search the Library's specialist databases
Appointments are 1 hour and can be face-to-face, by phone or online via Skype