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Health Sciences Literature Reviews

Overview of the library's service and a listing of resources to get started with your review.

Steps in the Evidence Synthesis process

  1. Plan your review and develop your review team: 
    • Formulate a plan for your review and determine the best use of your time, manpower, and resources. Your review team should, minimally, have 2 members. You should consider adding additional experts as necessary (ex: librarian, statistician, clinical expert). Consider what software you will need to complete the review and begin to obtain access or download software. Determine what review methodology you plan to follow. 
  2. Identify your research question: 
    • Formulate a clear, well-defined research question of appropriate scope. Define your terminology. Find existing reviews on your topic to inform the development of your research question, identify gaps, and confirm that you are not duplicating the efforts of previous reviews. Consider using a framework like PICO to define your question scope.
  3. Write and register a review protocol: 
    • The protocol describes the rationale, hypotheses, and planned methods for the review. Protocols reduce bias and improve consistency between review team members. Protocols can be used as a template to guide the review process. Protocols may be a requirement for publication by some journals. Protocols can be registered at Prospero or Open Science Framework.
  4. Define inclusion and exclusion criteria: 
    • ​​​​​​​Clearly state the criteria you will use to determine whether or not a study will be included in your search. Consider study populations, study design, intervention types, comparison groups, measured outcomes. 
  5. Search for studies: 
    • Work with a librarian to help you design and translate a comprehensive and exhaustive search strategy across a variety of databases. Run your searches in the databases that you've identified as relevant to your topic. Approach the gray literature methodically and purposefully. Collect ALL of the retrieved records from each search into a reference manager, such as Endnote, and de-duplicate prior to screening.
  6. Select studies for inclusion based on pre-defined eligibility criteria: 
    • Start with an initial title/abstract screening to remove studies that are clearly not related to your topic. Use your inclusion/exclusion criteria to complete a second round of screening on the full text of the studies. It is highly recommended that two independent reviewers screen all studies, resolving areas of disagreement by consensus.
  7. Extract data from included studies: 
    • ​​​​​​​Use a spreadsheet, or systematic review software, to extract all relevant data from each included study. It is recommended that you pilot your data extraction tool, to determine if other fields should be included or existing fields clarified.
  8. Evaluate the risk of bias of included studies: 
    • Use a Risk of Bias tool to assess the potential biases of studies in regards to study design and other factors. You can adapt existing tools to best meet the needs of your review, depending on the types of studies included. 
  9. Present results and assess the quality of evidence: 
    • Clearly present your findings, including detailed methodology (such as search strategies used, selection criteria, etc.) such that your review can be easily updated in the future with new research findings. Perform a meta-analysis if the studies allow. Provide recommendations for practice and policy-making if sufficient, high quality evidence exists, or future directions for research to fill existing gaps in knowledge or to strengthen the body of evidence.

Evidence Synthesis Reporting Guidelines

What is a Reporting Guideline?

  • A reporting guideline is a simple, structured tool to use while writing manuscripts. A reporting guideline provides a minimum list of information needed to ensure a manuscript can be understood and replicated by researchers and used to make clinical decisions. - EQUATOR Network

Suggested Reporting Guideline:

Further Reading:

  • Sarkis-Onofre R, Catalá-López F, Aromataris E, Lockwood C. How to properly use the PRISMA Statement. Syst Rev. 2021 Apr 19;10(1):117. doi: 10.1186/s13643-021-01671-z. PMID: 33875004; PMCID: PMC8056687.