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Systematic Reviews: Overview

Interested in writing a systematic review? This guide is designed to help you navigate the process.

Systematic Review Overview

What is a Systematic Review?

systematic review is a thorough compilation and analysis of all known evidence on a given subject. In order to be formally recognized by publishers and repositories, a systematic review must include the following elements:

  • A clearly defined research question and protocol (research plan).  

  • Evidence of a rigorous search process.  

  • Inclusion and exclusion criteria.  

  • Critical appraisal and bias assessment of all included studies.

For additional information, see:

Littell, J.H., Corcoran, J., & Pillai, V. (2008). Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analysis. Oxford University Press. 

Is a systematic review the right kind of review for your research?

Follow this flow chart from Yale's Cushing/Whitney Medical Library or ask a BYU librarian to learn if another kind of review is a better fit.


What does it take to conduct a systematic review?

A team A systematic review can't be done alone! A typical team includes a project leader, a subject expert, reviewers, a methodologist and/or a librarian, and a statistician.

A research question Consider whether a systematic review is needed before starting your project. Has someone already written one on your topic? Librarians can help you find out. 

A research protocol A research protocol is a detailed plan for how you will conduct your review. It is a good idea to register your protocol.

A literature search Your goal is to find ALL relevant studies on your topic, so your literature search should be thorough.

A tracking plan You’ll need to maintain detailed records of each step in the process.

Study selection and appraisal The screening of studies should be performed by at least 2 reviewers.

Data extraction The next step, also with a least 2 reviewers, is to extract data from the included studies.

Analysis and interpretation of results There are a number of tools that can help you to plot and analyze the results. The Cochrane Handbook provides detailed guidance on interpreting results and drawing conclusions.

Adapted from University of Minnesota's Resources for Conducting a Systematic Review Libguide.

The article "How to conduct a systematic review from beginning to end" from Covidence Academy is a good resource for understanding the steps of a systematic review.

Two Prominent Resources

Covidence Academy is an tutorial website for the Covidence systematic review tool, featuring free tutorials for different parts of doing a review.

Another recommended starting resource, Cochrane Handbook, is with step by step instruction for the steps in a systematic review.

How can librarians help?


As a consultant, a librarian can step in at different points of your systematic review and ​​offer advice on your research question, search strategy, or protocol development.

From Covidence Academy, "The Librarian's Role in a Systematic Review". 


Co-authoring is a more substantial commitment, and a librarian will typically devote more than a year to partner with you on your systematic review. As a co-author, the librarian will be more hands-on and can participate in ways such as:

  • Selecting databases and gray literature resources
  • Writing the search strategy
  • Translating searches to syntax of all databases
  • Performing searches and export them to citation management software
  • Commenting on the protocol
  • Performing de-duplication, or train your team on the process
  • Advising on the use of article screening software
  • Writing a portion of the methods section specific to searching


Librarian Directory

Librarians who have experience with Systematic Reviews include:


Meg Frost Life Science and Communication Disorders 

Mike Goates Life Sciences and Geology

Betsy Hopkins Nursing

Greg Nelson Chemical and Life Sciences