Basics of Systematic Reviews

Getting Started with Systematic Reviews

What is a Systematic Review?

Systematic review attempts to identify, appraise and synthesize all the empirical evidence that meets pre-specified eligibility criteria to answer a specific research question. Researchers conducting systematic reviews use explicit, systematic methods that are selected with a view aimed at minimizing bias, to produce more reliable findings to inform decision making.

A systematic review looks at all the existing research for a given question. Systematic reviews can be used to establish the state of existing knowledge and are frequently used in funder guideline development. Systematic reviews originated in medicine and the health sciences, but are becoming more and more prevalent across disciplines. 

There are many types of reviews in research. Please be aware that disciplines outside medicine and health sciences sometimes use the term "systematic review" to describe in-depth literature reviews which do not meet systematic review criteria. Review Types of Reviews page for more information.

The key elements that separate systematic review from others are:

  • An explicit reproducible methodology and systematic search
  • Focused research question/hypothesis
  • Duration (typically 12-24 months)


First steps

Before getting started on a systematic review, there are several steps that should be taken:

  • Form a team, a systematic review is not an individual undertaking
  • Consult with your Subject Librarian
    • Consider asking them to be on the team and giving an author credit
  • Form a specific hypothesis
    • If summarizing an area, use scoping review instead
  • Search for existing SRs in the area
  • Register your SR/Protocol