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Systematic Review Resources: Search for Prior Reviews

This guide is designed to help you get started on a systematic review and provide guidance on a wide variety of resources.

Why search for prior reviews?

There are two main reasons to search for prior reviews.

You want to:

  • Determine if your review is unique
    • You don't want to replicate a review if it has just been done!
    • Is it out of date?
      • Maybe it wasn't just done. Maybe it's a few years old.  Does it need to be updated?
    • If your idea is taken, how can you modify it to make it unique?
      • Be careful in your selection criteria.  
      • Read the prior review very carefully.
        • For example, if you wanted to do a review on interventions to reduce adolescent pregnancy and (surprise, surprise) it's already been done, don't think that you can just throw in race or ethnicity and make it all brand new. 
        • Did they do an analysis by race/ethnicity?  Did they indicate there were even enough studies with that sort of a focus?
        • If a prior, recent review indicates the studies aren't there, then you could very well be wasting your time trying to do a review in an area in which there is little or no original research.
  • Determine if a similar review exists which means you can:
    • Evaluate the review
      • Was the search strategy appropriate?
      • Did they evaluate the quality of the studies or simply vote count?
      • How well do they describe their methods?
        • Take note: Reporting not necessarily an indicator of quality; it could just be an indicator the author did not know to use reporting standards
      • What is different about your SR?
        • Theory/model, race/ethnicity, age, setting, etc.

Spend a few moments (okay, maybe an hour or so!) to determine if your review has been done.  It could well save you a great deal of time (and heartbreak!) later.

Search the journal literature

You will need to be affiliated with the University of Texas School of Public Health to access these resources.

Don't forget to use the appropriate SR filters if you want to limit your search to prior reviews.

This should be your starting point when trying to determine if your systematic review idea has been taken.  The databases listed below cover tens of thousands of journals and even special reports that get indexed by the databases.  Work efficiently-- start with journals, then look at other resources.

Free resources to search for prior reviews

There are several sites with systematic review databases.  One of the problems is that they often refer back to each other! It is difficult to untangle the sites, so I have tried very hard to not link to multiple sites that are searchable within 1 or 2 databases. 


Many of these are indexed in Medline/PubMed.  If you have not checked there first, do so!  Search these sites to make sure, especially PROSPERO as it is a registry of SR protocols.



Centre for Reviews & Dissemination (University of York)


Evidence synthesis search at NIHR

The NHS National Institute for Health Research funds high quality systematic review research.  This canned search looks for all items that have the designated research type as "evidence synthesis".


To search for a specific topic, click on Advanced Search, type in 1 or 2 keywords.  Don't get too fancy!



For Research Type, select Evidence Synthesis.


This will find protocols as well as completed SRs.






Agency for Health Research & Quality






The TMC Library - Health Sciences Resource Center Logo

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