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Michigan State University

Systematic & Advanced Evidence Synthesis Reviews

Conducting a Review

Most of the resources on this page are applicable to any advanced review synthesis project. Some of the resources are for specific review types, for example protocol templates for Systematic Reviews and Scoping Reviews.

Books on Conducting Systematic Reviews

Timelines & Steps for a Systematic Review or Other Review Types

The basic steps for conducting are similar between review types. The scope, focus, analysis, and timeline that will differ.

Systematic Review:

  1. Formulate a specific question
  2. Recruit Team Members including methodologic experts (librarian, statistician)
  3. Develop and register a protocol
  4. Conduct search
  5. Select studies in multi-step review process (title/abstract; full text)
  6. Extract data and analyze/summarize and synthesize relevant studies
    • Assess the quality of studies using a validated tool
    • Extract relevant statistics and pool in a meta-analysis
  7. Interpret results
    • including conclusions regarding changes in practice

Scoping Review and other types of literature reviews:

  1. Formulate a question
  2. Recruit Team Members including methodologic experts (librarian, statistician)
  3. Develop a protocol
  4. Conduct search
  5. Select studies in multi-step review process (title/abstract; full text)
  6. Summarize and synthesize relevant studies
  7. Report results
    • Include discussion of major limitations of the literature, identification of trends/themes, and directions for future research

Reporting Standards

Reporting standards tell you how to report what you did in your manuscript often including checklists for structured abstracts and sections as well as required information. They are not guidelines on how to conduct the review which are discussed in another section on this page.

Guidelines for Conducting Reviews

There are a few widely accepted guidelines that tell you how to conduct a review but they do not often go into detail on the search or analysis portions. It is up to the research team to engage with an information professional skilled in searching and other methodological experts as needed to conduct the review to a high standard.

Writing & Registering a Research Protocol

The crucial first step before attempting any review should be to write a research protocol. This document includes: team members and roles, criteria for authorship/acknowledgement, the question, rationale for the topic, background information, timeline, inclusion/exclusion criteria, and a basic search strategy. For some review types, like Systematic Reviews, it is expected that the protocol is registered. There are several templates one can use.

There are several places where you can register your protocol. It is expected that Systematic Reviews will register a protocol before performing the research. Other types of advanced reviews are highly encouraged to register one. This is to prevent research duplication - before beginning your research it is a good plan to see if a protocol has already been registered on your topic.

For Systematic Reviews:

Registries for other types of advanced evidence synthesis:

Resources for Completing the Literature Search (Data Collection)

The literature search is the foundation of the entire review. It is the data collection component of the review. You should consult with an information professional in your discipline to design and execute the search - without having a robust and reproducible search the evidentiary base for your review will not be comprehensive. Without a good foundation the data analysis and conclusion will not be strong or defensible.

Creating The Search Strategy

Choosing a Database

Peer Review of the Search Strategy

Search Filters/Hedges

Searching Grey Literature: Grey literature is information produced outside of traditional publishing (peer-reviewed primary research) and distribution channels (like academic databases), and can include reports, policy literature, and government documents. The key to searching grey lit is to make sure you are using a consistent set of keywords across all search engines and note what websites you searched.

Documenting Your Search

Reporting the Search

Data Analysis and Extraction

Choosing how you will analyze your data and what outside expertise (like a statistician) and software (such as SPSS, NVIVO etc..) you made need should be done during protocol creation. You should pilot your data extraction tool with a sub set of included studies to ensure validity and reliability.

Study Validity Assessments

Validity assessments are an integral part of systematic and other advanced reviews. The tool one uses to asses this is based on study type. The following link can help you determine which tool to use.

When to Update a Systematic Review