A systematic review is an attempt to collate all empirical evidence that fits pre-specified eligibility criteria in order to answer a specific research question. As its name suggests, a systematic review uses explicit, systematic methods that are selected with a view to minimizing bias, thus providing more reliable findings from which to draw conclusions and make decisions.
The key characteristics of a systematic review are:
Many systematic reviews contain a meta-analysis, which is the use of statistical methods to summarize the results of independent studies. By combining information from all relevant studies, meta-analyses can (a) provide more precise estimates of the effects of health care than those derived from the individual studies included within a review, and (b) facilitate investigations of the consistency of evidence across studies, as well as the nature of differences across studies.
-- Adapted from Higgins JPT, Green S (editors). Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions Version 5.1.0 [updated March 2011]. The Cochrane Collaboration, 2011. Available from www.handbook.cochrane.org.
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For general help conducting a systematic review, visit the TMC Library's research guide on systematic reviews, which provides detailed information about its library services related to systematic reviews.
The following guides provide help on conducting a systematic review: