Plan for Systematic Reviews

What is a systematic review? (Bambra, 2009)
  • A method of locating, appraising, and synthesizing evidence
  • A review of a clearly formulated question that uses systematic and explicit methods to identify, select, and critically appraise relevant research
Planning Guides

FlowChart and Overview of Process

  1. Develop a focused question (PICO -Population, Intervention, Comparison, Outcome)
  2. Identify inclusion and exclusion criteria
  3. Appreciate possible sources of bias
  4. Develop and execute literature search strategy
  5. Plan how to assess the quality of the studies & how to extract the data from the studies

Link to Systematic Review Flowchart

Where to Search

Basic Search Tips

  • Divide topic into key concepts
  • Convert concepts to search terms (subject terms and keywords).  In PubMed, use MeSH terms (medical subject headings).
  • Search concepts individually, then combine using Booleans (and, or, not)
  • Apply limits such as date of publication, type, language, age groups
  • Focus search with limits (age groups, publication types, human/animal ...)
  • Manage results with MyNCBI, EndNote, or similar reference management programs

PubMed Search Tips

For additional PubMed assistance, see:


Also see a series of papers published in Lancet in 2002 by DA Grimes and KF Schulz :


  • Egger M, S. G. (2001). Systematic reviews in health care: meta-analysis in context. London: BMJ Books  (Health Library Bookstacks WA 20.5 S995 2001)