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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 Learning and 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, I.1


Team work
Systematic reviews are a team effort - at least two people are needed, preferably three or four. Important areas of expertise to cover are: content expert, systematic review methods expert, statistician, librarian, reference management.

From EBBP Training Portal

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

If you are doing a traditional literature review, you may find our Literature Reviews guide useful. It explains the function of a literature review and provides guidance on how to write one.

There are various other types of literature reviews.

  • This article defines forty-eight health-related review types and categorises them into seven broad review families. For each review family, it provides recommendations on appropriate methods of information retrieval:

Sutton, A, Clowes, M, Preston, L & Booth, A 2019, 'Meeting the review family: exploring review types and associated information retrieval requirements', Health Information & Libraries Journal, vol. 36, no. 3, pp. 202-222.

This article is only accessible for UTAS staff and students.

  • This article describes fourteen different review types and associated methodologies (scroll down to Table 1 on p94/95):

Grant, MJ & Booth, A 2009, 'A typology of reviews: an analysis of 14 review types and associated methodologies', Health Information & Libraries Journal, vol. 26, no. 2, pp. 91-108.

This is an open access article.

Literature Review or Narrative Review

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

This article is only accessible for UTAS staff and students.


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 articles

Rapid Review

Conducting a rapid review of the literature is an effective way to synthesise current evidence on a topic. Rapid reviews differ from systematic reviews in that the process is tailored for a shorter timeline, but it is still important to use rigorous methodology to ensure that the best available research evidence is used in decision making. The National Collaborating Centre of Methods and Tools (NCCMT) has developed a Rapid Review Guidebook that details each step in the rapid review process, with notes on how to tailor the process given resource limitations.

Dobbins, M 2017, Rapid Review Guidebook, National Collaborating Centre for Methods and Tools, Hamilton, ON.


"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.


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.

More information on meta-analyses can be found in Cochrane Handbook, Chapter 10.

Five characteristics of systematic approaches

  • Working with a team
    A minimum of two people with different expertise reduces bias.
  • Transparent methodology and presentation
    Clear and thorough reporting of every stage - increases accountability, transparency, and reproducibility. 
  • Comprehensive searching
    Searching multiple databases, grey literature, hand searching, reference lists, citation tracking, and applying no language limits enables finding all studies regardless of geographic location.
  • Predefined inclusion/exclusion criteria
    Rules for types of studies to include are set rules prior to searching and they do not change. Considerations include date, study designs, outcomes, populations, etc.
  • Quality assessment
    Critical examination of methodology and findings for each individual study that meets inclusion criteria, using tools.

From Advanced Literature Searching in the Health Sciences edX Course

The level of rigour for these five characteristics differs for each type of literature review:

  Team Transparency Search comprehensiveness Predefined inclusion/exclusion criteria Quality assessment
Literature/Narrative review O O
wide variety
depends on time constraints
Scoping review P P P
can vary due to resource constraints
Rapid review P P
wide variety
depends on time constraints
depends on time constraints
Umbrella review P P P P P
Systematic review P P P P P
Meta-analysis P P P P P


What review is right for you?

This tool is designed to provide guidance and supporting material to reviewers on methods for the conduct and reporting of knowledge synthesis:

Need More Help?
Book a consultation with a Learning and Research Librarian or contact