Skip to main content
site header image

How to Develop and Search for Systematic Reviews: Has a Systematic Review Been Done on your Topic?

This guide is designed to help you develop systematic reviews. The first step is to determine if one has been done in the area you want so guidance is provided on doing that as well.

Some things to consider

There are many places in which systematic reviews are published.  The majority probably appear in the journal literature, but there are also organizations that publish SRs as reports without them every being indexed by a major literature database such as PubMed/Medline.

Also, it doesn't mean you cannot complete the review you wanted just because you discover a prior review. There are several good reasons to go ahead with yours.  If you find a prior review, evaluate it!

  • Was the search strategy appropriate?
  • Did they evaluate the quality of the studies or simply vote count?
    • What do we mean by vote count? Look at the Cochrane Handbook for more information
  • How well do they describe their methods?
  • Is it out of date?
  • What is different about your SR?
    • Theory/model, race/ethnicity, age, setting, etc.

You may find after reviewing the prior review, that your idea is still viable. Also, you can use the prior review in several ways:

  • It can provide a conceptual schema for how you think about and organize studies
  • It can provide other contributions to your codebook
  • It may describe search strategies or benchmarks that can help you evaluate your own search
  • It may include relevant studies that you also want to include
  • They may use inclusion criteria that impacted the number and type of studies they found
    •   You may decide to expand or restrict inclusion criteria

If there is a similar review, be sure you mention it in your introduction.  It can be part of your rationale:

A scoping search was performed to determine if a prior systematic review had been done on X, Y, and Z.  Whosit and Whatsit published a systematic review in 2002 that found (major findings here).  However, their study precede the development of the new and improved intervention that my systematic review will include. 

Good places to look for prior SRs