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Systematic Reviews : Getting Started

A brief guide on how to conduct a systematic review.

The beginning

Before you can conduct a systematic review you will need to break it down, the following steps are suggested:

  1. Identify your research question
  2. Identify variables of research question (PICO: Population, intervention, comparison, outcome)
  3. Look at having an inclusion and exclusion criteria
  4. Identify synonyms for your search terms 
  5. Identify databases and interface
  6. Look at search strategy (build it, tweak it)
  7. Use screen tools to analysis your data

Systematic review process

What type of review is right for you? - Cornell University

PRISMA Statement


PRISMA is an evidence-based minimum set of items for reporting in systematic reviews and meta-analyses. PRISMA primarily focuses on the reporting of reviews evaluating the effects of interventions, but can also be used as a basis for reporting systematic reviews with objectives other than evaluating interventions (e.g. evaluating aetiology, prevalence, diagnosis or prognosis).

PRISMA Statement

Refining your Research Question

Formulating your review question
The purpose of a systematic review is to answer a clear. focused  and answerable question. 


The review question should be the first step in your systematic review. A well formulated review question will help determine your inclusion and exclusion criteria, the creation of your search strategy, the collection of data and the presentation of your findings. A sound question:

  • Allows you to find information quickly.
  • Allows you to find information that is relevant  and valid (accurately measures stated objectives).
  • Provides you with a checklist for the main concepts to be included in your search strategy.

The question should always be:

  • Clear
  • Unambiguous
  • Structured

It is important to formulate your research question clearly to avoid missing relevant studies or collecting a potentially biased result set.