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Systematic Reviews: Record Keeping

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

Record Keeping Tips

Tips for planning and tracking steps of a Systematic Review

A systematic review is a complex, time-intensive work that requires excellent record-keeping at all stages. It is important to create clear record-keeping systems and maintain consistent and meticulous records in adherence to recommended reporting standards. This includes:

  • Making a detailed record of searches conducted with the subsequent results.

    • This should include the databases and other sources searched, the date the search was conducted, the exact search terms and search fields used, any limits applied to the search (e.g., publication date, article language, etc.), and the number of results for each database searched

    • see Developing Searches for more details.

  • Creating and applying preliminary inclusion and exclusion criteria (this includes providing justification and any subsequent revisions)

  • Evaluating borderline cases (those cases that are more difficult to determine eligibility status).  

    • Include information on how borderline cases were handled (e.g., automatically included in full-text review, eligibility disagreements that could not be resolved through discussion were resolved by arbitration by additional screener, etc.).

  • Maintaining a list of the number of studies excluded at the screening stage based on their title and/or abstract.

  • Creating a table to record individual studies that were excluded at the full-text eligibility stage, along with brief reasons for excluding each study based on your inclusion and exclusion criteria.

    • Common reasons for exclusion are publication type (e.g., non-empirical article), study design (e.g., unsuitable data), measure (e.g., unvalidated measures), and participants (e.g., too old or too young). This step is particularly important because it justifies the exclusion of studies that some readers might have expected to be included.

  • Describing the efforts made to find and retrieve unpublished work.

  • Developing a table to describe in detail the characteristics of studies included in the review.

For more detailed information, see the following article:

Siddaway, A. P., Wood, A. M., & Hedges, L. V. (2019). How to do a systematic review: A best practice guide for conducting and reporting narrative reviews, meta-analyses, and meta-syntheses. Annual Review of Psychology, 70747-770. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-psych-010418-102803 

PRISMA Flow Diagram

The PRISMA Flow Chart is a helpful way to track and report inclusion/exclusion decisions.

An in-depth explanation of the Prisma guidelines can be found on the "What is PRISMA guideline & what's new in the 2020 update" article on Covidence Academy.