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Systematic Reviews for Health: Home

A guide on how a Research Librarian can help you during a systematic review process

Aim of Subject Guide

This subject guide provides an overview of what a systematic review is and how Research Librarians can help researchers at the University of Tasmania during a systematic review process. This guide focuses on systematic reviews in a Health Sciences setting.

What is a Systematic Review?

A systematic review attempts to collate all empirical evidence that fits pre-specified eligibility criteria in order to answer a specific research question. It uses explicit, systematic methods that are selected with a view to minimizing bias, thus providing more reliable findings from which conclusions can be drawn and decisions made (Antman 1992, Oxman 1993).

The key characteristics of a systematic review are:

  • a clearly stated set of objectives with pre-defined eligibility criteria for studies;
  • an explicit, reproducible methodology;
  • a systematic search that attempts to identify all studies that would meet the eligibility criteria;
  • an assessment of the validity of the findings of the included studies, for example through the assessment of risk of bias; and
  • a systematic presentation, and synthesis, of the characteristics and findings of the included studies.

From Cochrane Handbook, 1.2.2

Steps of a Systematic Review


Adapted from Cochrane Canada 2011, Session three: A 'snapshot' of the steps of conducting a Cochrane Review (part 1).

Types of Literature Reviews

There are various types of literature reviews. This article describes fourteen different review types and associated methodologies (scroll down to Table 1 on p94/95):

Systematic Review vs Literature Review 

These resources outline the difference between a systematic review and a literature review:


Systematic Review vs Scoping Review

From Munn, Z, Peters, MDJ, Stern, C, Tufanaru, C, McArthur, A & Aromataris, E 2018, 'Systematic review or scoping review? Guidance for authors when choosing between a systematic or scoping review approach', BMC Medical Research Methodology, vol. 18, no. 1, p. 143.

"Researchers may conduct scoping reviews instead of systematic reviews where the purpose of the review is to identify knowledge gaps, scope a body of literature, clarify concepts or to investigate research conduct. While useful in their own right, scoping reviews may also be helpful precursors to systematic reviews and can be used to confirm the relevance of inclusion criteria and potential questions."

Other article

Systematic Review vs Meta-Analysis

Many, but not all, systematic reviews contain meta-analyses. Meta-analysis is the use of statistical methods to summarise the results of independent studies. By combining information from all relevant studies, meta-analyses can provide more precise estimates of the effects of health care than those derived from the individual studies included within a review. Meta-analyses also facilitate investigations of the consistency of evidence across studies, and the exploration of differences across studies (Cochrane Handbook, 1.2.2).

More information on meta-analyses can be found in Cochrane Handbook, Chapter 9.

Rapid Review

"Rapid reviews have emerged as a streamlined approach to synthesizing evidence in a timely manner -typically for the purpose of informing emergent decisions faced by decision makers in health care settings."

Khangura, S, Konnyu, K, Cushman, R, Grimshaw, J & Moher, D 2012, 'Evidence summaries: The evolution of a rapid review approach', Systematic Reviews, vol. 1, no. 1, p. 10.

Umbrella Review

An umbrella review is a synthesis of existing reviews, only including the highest level of evidence such as systematic reviews and meta-analyses. It allows the findings of different reviews relevant to a review question to be compared and contrasted.

Methodology paperAromataris, E, Fernandez, R, Godfrey, CM, Holly, C, Khalil, H & Tungpunkom, P 2015, 'Summarizing systematic reviews: Methodological development, conduct and reporting of an umbrella review approach', Int J Evid Based Healthc, vol. 13, no. 3, pp. 132-140.

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