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How to Write a Systematic Review Introduction

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From deciding how to choose a topic for systematic review, collecting hundreds of existing articles, to interpreting numerous amounts of relevant data – each of these constitute different steps in a systematic review of literature. At the end, we come to the stage where you will need to synthesize all of your findings and use them to answer a specific research question by summarizing it in a comprehensive, unbiased, and balanced manner. Naturally, this entire process starts with a robust introduction. But with months or even years, of rigorous research to present, where do you even begin? To write the introduction of your systematic review, you must go back to the foundations of your study. Explain the context, define key terms, and introduce your rationale, providing any necessary information that can give the reader a background of your review and the motivations that led to it.

How to Write An Introduction Of A Systematic Review

For anyone who has experience working on any sort of study, be it a review, thesis, or even just an academic paper – writing an introduction shouldn’t be a foreign concept. It generally follows the same rules, requiring it to give the readers the context of the study explaining what the review is all about: the topic it tackles, why the study was performed and the goals of its findings.

That said, most systematic reviews are governed by two guidelines that help improve the reporting of the research. These are the PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses) statement and the Cochrane handbook. Both have specifications on how to write the report, including the introduction. Look at a systematic review example, and you’ll find that it uses either one of these frameworks.

PRISMA Statement vs. Cochrane Guidelines

PRISMA requires that a systematic review introduction have two parts: the rationale and the objective. Meanwhile, the Cochrane guidelines require that it should be split up into four parts, namely the problem description, the intervention being considered, the efficacy of the intervention, and the justification behind the systematic review.

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Q

What Is The Right Length Of A Systematic Review Introduction?

There’s no hard and fast rule about the length of a systematic review introduction. However, it’s best to keep it concise. Limit it to just two to four paragraphs, not exceeding one full page. Don’t worry, you’ll have the rest of the paper to fill with data!

What To Include In A Systematic Review Introduction

Whether or not you’re following writing guidelines, here are some pieces of information that you should include in your systematic review introduction:

Context

Give background information about the review, including what’s already known about the topic and what you’re attempting to discover with your findings.

Definitions

This is optional, but if your review is dealing with important terms and concepts that require defining beforehand for better understanding on the readers’ part, add them to your introduction.

Rationale

Delve a little into why the study topic is important, and why a systematic review must be done for it. This prompts a discussion about the knowledge gaps, a lack of cohesion in existing studies, and the potential implications of the review.

Research Question

Introduce your topic, specifically the research question that’s driving the study. Be sure that it’s new, focused, specific, and answerable, and that it ties together with your conclusion later on.

Conclusion

Writing a systematic review introduction is the beginning of the final steps of your research. It involves summarizing the background of your study, some key definitions, and your rationale for performing the study, all summarized in a few paragraphs to set the tone and context for your systematic review. To write it easily, it helps to have all your processes systematically recorded for reference, which you can do through a literature review software like DistillerSR, which can automate every step of your systematic review. That way, you can make sure that you include all the necessary information.

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