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Systematic Reviews / Evidence Synthesis: Introduction

Overview of Evidence-Based Research

Evidence-Based Research is the overall context. Evidence Synthesis is analyzing, critiquing and re-structuring the evidence. Systematic review is the agreed process.

What does that look like?

Is your research question viable? Check and synthesize prior evidence through systematic review / evidence synthesis process.

Systematic process is following an agreed, consistent and planned methodology. (Protocol, Systematic Review, Integrative Review, Rapid Review or Scoping Review).

Evidence can be a case study, report, randomized controlled trial, articles, policy, theory or data.

Synthesis evaluates and creates connections between the evidence and the literature.

Published outputs: protocol, methods section of your review paper or a published article in its own right.

Teamwork is essential.



Types of reviews

The type of review which you are undertaking for your research will determine the appropriate methods and sources you need to use.

Review family Types Characteristics
Traditional Review Critical Review, Narrative Review, Integrative Review Bibliographic database searching, may not always be explicit in methods, move to be more systematic and transparent when reporting.
Systematic Review Cochrane Review of Effects, Meta-Analysis Rigorous searching approach with a focus on specific study types.
Review of Review Overview, Umbrella Review Focus on particular study type (systematic review) - consistent approach, clear guidance on sources and search techniques.
Rapid Review Rapid Realist Review, Rapid Evidence Assessment Detailed negotiation between review team and client, how scope and methods can be achieved within time available.
Qualitative Review

Qualitative Evidence Synthesis, Qualitative Meta-Synthesis

Thematic, synthesis framework.
Mixed Methods Mixed Methods Synthesis Integration of blended (qualitative and quantitative data).
Purpose Specific Review Scoping/Mapping Review Can be created in response to impromptu demands for projects and search strategies.

Sutton, A, Clowes M, Preston L, Booth A (2019) 'Meeting the review family: exploring review types and associated information retrieval requirements', Health Information Libraries Journal, 36 (3), pp. 202-222.

Grant, M.J., Booth A (2009) ‘A typology of reviews: an analysis of 14 review types and associated methodologies’, Health Information Libraries Journal, 26 (2), pp. 94-95.


Why do we need Systematc Reviews?


Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions sets out each step of the review and the Cochrane principles can also be applied to non Cochrane reviews.

MECIR (Methodological Expectations for Cochrane Intervention Reviews) standards for reviews, updates and protocols to comply with.

PRESS (Peer Review of Electronic Search Strategies) - guidelines for evaluating electronic search strategies.

PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta Analyses). PRISMA 2020 statement: updated guidelines.

Steps for a Systematic Review

  1. Define your question

  2. Is there a recent review relevant to your question?

  3. Develop your protocol to include inclusion, exclusion criteria and eligibility

  4. Build your search strategy

  5. Search the literature

  6. Select and critique studies

  7. Extract and synthesize data

  8. Analyse and present results

  9. Interpret results and draw conclusions

  10. Improve and update the review