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Conducting a Systematic Review

The Steps in Brief


  1. What is your research question? 
    1. What is the problem you are addressing?
    2. Is there a need for an answer?
    3. Has one been done and published before? If so, it may need an update. 
  2. Assemble your team based on expertise and the needs of the research or area of study,
  3. Create your Protocol (your playboook) for starting and completing your systematic review.
    1. This includes your methods such as eligibility criteria of the studies and search strategy. The PRISMA-P statement will guide you.
    2. The PRISMA-P was published in 2015 aiming to facilitate the development and reporting of systematic review protocols.
  4. Register your Protocol 
  5. Perform an extensive, highly sensitive search in at least three databases such as PubMed/Medline, Embase, Cochrane Central. 
    1. Document your search strategy. The PRISMA-S will guide you in more detail.
  6. Import all of your citations to EndNote Desktop.
  7. Screen and select all of your studies from your wide search based on your inclusion/exclusion criteria (eligibility criteria) that is defined in your Protocol. 
    1. There are a variety of screening tools which you can use to facilitate this process of choosing your penultimate studies. 
  8. Critically appraise these studies and choose your final selection based on a variety of factors such as but not limited to:
    1. Methodological quality
      1. Level of publication bias
      2. Does the sample size reflect the studied population?
    2. COI of authors, financial or professional.
    3. Critical Appraisal Resources.
  9. Extract your data for analysis and synthesized summation in either a narrative qualitative format or a quantitative statistical conclusion known as a Meta-Analysis.
    1. RevMan Web and this quick start guided video can guide you in performing a MA and creating a forest plot of the imported data.​

    2. There are several other tools for data extraction and management.

  10. Searching for the right home (publisher) for your completed study.

    1. Check out our Scholarly Communications Libguide.


Protocol Registration


There are several registries where you can register your protocol:

  1. Cochrane Library
    1. In Chapter 3 of the Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions, there is a section on reporting of protocols that is helpful.
  2. JBI Systematic Review Register
  3. Open Science Framework
  4. Prospero


Prospero is the most popular:

Helpful Information on:

How to Register your Protocol on Prospero 


Where Do I Find Primary Studies to Include in a Systematic Review?

  • Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL) is a database that covers nursing and allied health disciplines, including health administration. 
  • PubMed/ MEDLINE is the National Library of Medicine's biosciences database covering medicine, nursing, dentistry, veterinary medicine, health care systems, and preclinical sciences.  The Health Sciences Library provides access to PubMed and multiple MEDLINE interfaces. 
  • Web of Science (Science Citation Index and Social Science Citation Index) SCI covers medical and life sciences, and other sciences. SSCI includes economics, education, health sciences, social policy and social work.

NOTE: Logging in to the following databases through the Health Sciences Library Databases ensures you have access to the full text of articles, when available.

Some systematic review topics will be covered by subject specific databases.

Freely available databases such as AGRICOLA (agriculture, including animal sciences, human nutrition, environmental sciences and more); Basic Medical Sciences Databases; ERIC (education); PEDro (physiotherapy) and others may be appropriate depending on your topic. A database not available to affiliates of New York Medical College can be searched by a librarian through Dialog for associated fees.