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Conducting a Systematic Review

What Is a Systematic Review?

"A review of a clearly formulated question that uses systematic and explicit methods to identify, select, and critically appraise relevant research, and to collect and analyze data from the studies that are included in the review. Statistical methods (meta-analysis) may or may not be used to analyze and summarize the results of the included studies." - from the Cochrane Handbook


In a nutshell, a systematic review is a secondary study from a collection of primary studies (original research) that pertain to a specific research question. Those primary studies have been analyzed, examined, appraised, and evaluated for the highest level of evidence and quality of methodology, in order to provide the best answer to a research question.

The methods and/or protocol of conducting a systematic review are clear, understandable, rigorous and transparent. In a systematic review, you should see:

  • A clearly stated objective.
  • Search Methods: The where, and the how. 
  • Selection Criteria (inclusion/exclusion): What does the study need to look like to answer your research question.
    • Types of participants, problem, study design
    • Interventions, exposures, outcomes.
  • See the example below:



Additional Definitions: 

National Health Service


A Systematic Review is not a Literature Review


Systematic reviews are often confused with review articles. This type of publication are often called narrative reviews or literature reviews. 


Literature reviews (or narrative reviews or review articles) are valuable and help to build one's knowledge base on a topic. However, they are quite different from systematic reviews.

  • There is no research question.
  • It is an overview or BROAD examination of the published literature on a topic.
  • There is no critical appraisal of the research. No stated methods as it is not study, but rather a narrative review of the studies. 
  • See the example below:

Recent Systematic Reviews at NYMC



1.      Aiman W, Ali MA, Jumean S, et al. BRAF Inhibitors in BRAF-Mutated Colorectal Cancer: A Systematic Review. J Clin Med. Dec 25 2023;13(1)doi:10.3390/jcm13010113

2.      Covell MM, Roy JM, Rumalla K, et al. The Limited Utility of the Hospital Frailty Risk Score as a Frailty Assessment Tool in Neurosurgery: A Systematic Review. Neurosurgery. Feb 1 2024;94(2):251-262. doi:10.1227/neu.0000000000002668

3.      Drivas E, Gachabayov M, Kajmolli A, Stadlan Z, Felsenreich DM, Castaldi M. Quilting Suture Technique After Mastectomy: A Meta-Analysis. Am Surg. Dec 2023;89(12):6045-6052. doi:10.1177/00031348231173995

4.      Faden J, Citrome L. A systematic review of clozapine for aggression and violence in patients with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder. Schizophr Res. Jan 29 2024;doi:10.1016/j.schres.2023.11.008

5.      Gachabayov M, Kajmolli A, Quintero L, et al. Inadvertent laparoscopic lavage of perforated colon cancer: a systematic review. Langenbecks Arch Surg. Jan 10 2024;409(1):35. doi:10.1007/s00423-023-03224-5

6.      Ingrassia JP, Maqsood MH, Gelfand JM, et al. Cardiovascular and Venous Thromboembolic Risk With JAK Inhibitors in Immune-Mediated Inflammatory Skin Diseases: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. JAMA Dermatol. Jan 1 2024;160(1):28-36. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2023.4090

7.      Ligi D, Della Franca C, Notarte KI, et al. Platelet distribution width (PDW) as a significant correlate of COVID-19 infection severity and mortality. Clin Chem Lab Med. Feb 26 2024;62(3):385-395. doi:10.1515/cclm-2023-0625

8.      Nduma BN, Al-Ajlouni YA, Njei B. The Application of Artificial Intelligence (AI)-Based Ultrasound for the Diagnosis of Fatty Liver Disease: A Systematic Review. Cureus. Dec 2023;15(12):e50601. doi:10.7759/cureus.50601

9.      Sreenivasan J, Reddy RK, Jamil Y, et al. Intravascular Imaging-Guided Versus Angiography-Guided Percutaneous Coronary Intervention: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Trials. J Am Heart Assoc. Jan 16 2024;13(2):e031111. doi:10.1161/jaha.123.031111

10.    Stifani BM, Lavelanet AF. Reversal of medication abortion with progesterone: a systematic review. BMJ Sex Reprod Health. Jan 9 2024;50(1):43-52. doi:10.1136/bmjsrh-2023-201875



Where Do I Find Published Systematic Reviews?

  • The Campbell Collaboration is an international research network that produces systematic reviews of the effects of social interventions focusing on education, crime and justice, and social welfare.
  • The Centre for Reviews and Dissemination (CRD) databases are updated daily and provide decision-makers with access to quality assessed systematic reviews, economic evaluations, summaries of health technology assessments, summaries of all Cochrane reviews and protocols, and summaries of Campbell reviews.
  • The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (CDSR) includes the full text of regularly updated systematic reviews of the effects of healthcare prepared by The Cochrane Collaboration.
  • The Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effects (DARE) covers a broad range of health related interventions and complements the CDSR by quality-assessing and summarizing reviews that have not yet been carried out by the Cochrane Collaboration. Each abstract includes a summary of the review together with a critical commentary about the overall quality.
  • Both PubMed and PubMed Clinical Queries can be used to locate systematic reviews. The Clinical Queries tool retrieves citations identified as systematic reviews, meta-analyses, reviews of clinical trials, evidence-based medicine, consensus development conferences, guidelines, and citations to articles from journals specializing in review studies of value to clinicians.

NOTE: Linking to the Cochrane Databases and PubMed through the Health Sciences Library ensures that you have access to the full text of systematic reviews and articles when available.