Plan for Systematic Reviews

What is a systematic review? (Bambra, 2009)

1. A method of locating, appraising, and synthesizing evidence
2. A review of a clearly formulated question that uses systematic and explicit methods to identify, select, and critically appraise relevant research

Planning Resources

Finding What Works in Health Care: Standards for Systematic Reviews.
IOM (Institute of Medicine). 2011.


PRISMA: Transparent Reporting of Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses.
PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses). 2015

Cochrane handbook for systematic reviews of interventions.
The Cochrane Collaboration. 2011.


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

Where to Search

MEDLINE (PubMed) Database
EMBASE Database
Web of Science Database
Global Health Library - WHO Regional Database
PsychINFO Subject-specific Databases
POPLINE Subject-specific Databases
Cochrane Library Systematic Review Database
Grey literature

Basic Search Tips

  1. Divide topic into key concepts
  2. Convert concepts to search terms (subject terms and keywords).  In PubMed, use MeSH terms (medical subject headings). [video tutorial]
  3. Search concepts individually, then combine using Booleans (AND, OR, NOT)
  4. Apply limits such as date of publication, type, language, age groups, human/animal
  5. 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 :