Systematic reviews: Overview


Welcome to the Brunel University London Library guide on producing systematic reviews of the literature.

The dictionary of public health defines systematic review as:

"A method of analysis based on pooled data from as many sources as possible, preferably, but not necessarily, using exactly comparable research studies. In this respect, a systematic review may not be quite the same as a meta-analysis, which relies on comparable studies. The aim is to make maximum use of the best available evidence from all available sources in evidence-based decision making."

Key resource

The Centre for Reviews and Dissemination at the University of York have provided a free guide that we recommend reading.

"The book is highly recommended for statistically-minded medical researchers who need solutions to commonly encountered problems in the review of medical studies, and also for reviewers and practitioners." The Lancet

What is a systematic review?

High quality systematic reviews seek to:

  • Identify all relevant published and unpublished evidence;
  • Select studies or reports for inclusion;
  • Assess the quality of each study or report;
  • Synthesise the findings from individual studies or reports in an unbiased way;
  • Interpret the findings and present a balanced and impartial summary of the findings with due consideration of any flaws in the evidence.

The process of systematic review

  1. Defining an appropriate question.
  2. Searching the literature.
  3. Assessing the studies.
  4. Combining the results.
  5. Placing the findings in context.

Systematic review sources

Look at some existing reviews to see how it's done:

These are only a starting point.