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Systematic Reviews

What is a systematic review?

A systematic review attempts to collate all empirical evidence that fits pre-specified eligibility criteria in order to answer a specific research question. The key characteristics of a systematic review are:

  • a clearly defined question with inclusion & exclusion criteria;
  • rigorous & systematic search of the literature;
  • critical appraisal of included studies;
  • data extraction and management;
  • analysis & interpretation of results;
  • and report for publication.


Why do we need systematic reviews?

The systematic review process has been developed to minimise bias and ensure transparency. Methods should be adequately documented so that they can be replicated. The systematic review is an approach used in health, education and social policy (as part of evidence based policy or practice) and is much more than a 'literature review' because it follows a strict methodology which means it is 'transparent, rigorous and replicable'.

When conducted well, systematic reviews should give us the best possible estimate of any true effect. An assessment of the methodological quality of reviews should highlight the limitations of a review.

Benefits include:

  • Save clinicians and researchers valuable time
  • Take a large mass of literature and make concise sense of it
  • Objectively evaluate the quality of evidence on a topic
  • Resolve or highlight contradictions in the literature
  • Guide clinical decisions
  • Form the basis for practice guidelines and health care policy
  • Identify the need for additional research
  • Prevent unnecessary studies from being carried out

Systematic reviews are gaining in popularity at medical research institutions across Europe and America. Guidelines either state the need for or highly recommend the involvement of a librarian or information professional when undergoing a systematic review project.

How can the VU University Medical Library help?

Research librarians can partner with you on systematic reviews.

Add us to your author team and we will design and manage complex, thorough searches in multiple databases. We will also provide you with:

  • advise on reference management (EndNote),

  • tables with detailed search strategies,

  • a narrative of the search methodology.

Check Vrije Universiteit medical library for information about resources and library support for systematic review research.

Email us to get started.