About Systematic Reviews

Steps in a Systematic Review of Literature

A systematic review of literature is a research-intensive study of all the available literature designed to answer a focused research question. It takes months, or even years to complete due to its rigorous process. From defining a specific research topic, selecting and appraising studies, learning how to write a systematic review introduction, to completing a comprehensive report – researchers are required to be thorough, accurate, and critical.

What Is A Systematic Review Of Literature?

Systematic reviews of literature are considered to be one of the most reliable sources of evidence. But why are systematic reviews good, anyway? The answer lies in its methodology, which uses systematic and explicit methods to select, appraise, and analyze all relevant research, including unpublished ones. This produces an unbiased and balanced summary of findings, which is often used to guide evidence-based fields, medicine in particular.

How to Conduct A Systematic Review of Literature

Here are the steps involved in a systematic review:

Define the Research Question

The first stage of a systematic review involves defining your topic of research. Begin with a draft, then with a quick preliminary literature search, qualitative review, and consultations with field experts, fine-tune it into a specific, focused, and answerable research question (typically formulated under the PICO framework). It should be a question that has never been addressed before and should add value to the existing body of knowledge. Once the main question is defined, it becomes difficult to alter it. The objectives of the research must be clearly formulated and documented.

Assemble a Team

Gather a team of experts to conduct the review. No systematic review of literature can be done by just one person; two people may even be insufficient. A group of three or more is ideal—the extra people aren’t just required to carry out the various tasks, they can also aid in better decision-making among the members (i.e. they can be tiebreakers during challenging moments).

Develop and Register a Protocol

A good strategy is the foundation of a successful systematic review. Planning how you’ll go about your research helps ensure that everything runs smoothly. This way you avoid any issues that could potentially be detrimental to the process. Develop a protocol or a plan to carry out each stage of your method, including goals, timelines, and project management terms, as well as the eligibility criteria you’ve set for selecting studies for the review. You can register your protocol afterward; it’s optional but highly recommended.

Conduct a Thorough Literature Search

This is where the bulk of the systematic review starts – searching for relevant studies. Systematic reviews are meant to be comprehensive, which means that they must consider all relevant literature, both published and unpublished, while making sure that everything is up-to-date. It is advisable to use more than one database and best to consult with a librarian or an industry expert to gather data.

Select and Appraise Relevant Studies

After sourcing all relevant studies, it’s time to screen them. Choose which to include or exclude in your review based on the predetermined eligibility criteria, then identify and resolve any conflicts between the existing literature.

Extract Data and Assess Findings

This step covers extracting data to report as a narrative, or by putting them into charts or tables in a Summary of Findings (SOF). It also involves appraising the research, interpreting results, and performing qualitative, quantitative, or meta-analysis (the latter is optional and only done when feasible).

Write the Paper

Once all the data has been collected, selected, and appraised, it’s time to write your paper. You must introduce your topic, explain your methodology, present your findings, and provide your conclusions or results, all in a systematic, unbiased, and balanced format.

Conclusion

A systematic review of literature is a laborious process involving several steps that require researchers to be meticulous, precise, and critical. It can almost seem like an impossible task. But with the help of literature review software like DistillerSR, each step of a systematic review can be automated to securely produce faster and more accurate results. It removes much of the manual labor required to complete the review, allowing researchers to focus more on answering their research question and attaining their review goals.

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