How to do a Systematic Review

Systematic review in research is a detailed search to find out all related information on a topic or subject and analyze it. A systematic approach helps in avoiding any bias in reviewing the literature. Systematic reviews aim at critically analyzing all the relevant information related to a research question. The researcher integrates all the information that is available analyzes, evaluates and reaches to a conclusion.

Systematic reviews are helpful in many ways to the research industry, for example, some of the benefits are mentioned below:

  • It helps in locating any loopholes in knowledge related to a research question. This gives other researchers idea what aspects of the research question needs to be studied.
  • Systematic review helps the researchers know about the extent of study already done. Some theories are proven over time with lots of research and studies. A systematic review helps the researcher in understanding other topics.
  • It explains inconsistencies in the research conducted on the same topic.
  • Systematic review aims at determining the quality of work done on a specific research topic.
  • Lastly, a systematic review helps in understanding the bottom-line of lengthy literature. In medical sciences and other fields, the researchers find systematic reviews very helpful.

Steps in systematic review

Step 1:

Identify and formulate research question

The first step is to identify a research topic, question, or concern that need to be studied. The researcher then generates a research question related to that topic. This should be a structured, clear, and precise research question. The researcher should ask some questions before deciding about the research question:

  • First, is it feasible to conduct a study on this research question?
  • Second, do you have time and other resources to conduct study on it?
  • Third, is there a review available on this topic?
  • Lastly, is there sufficient literature for review?

Step 2:

Identify relevant studies

Once the research question is formulated the researcher need to identify relevant studies. The researcher should explain in the study the inclusion and exclusion criteria that is used in the study. The basis of the selection of a study for review should be base don the research question. The researcher should prefer to include various studies from various sources print as well as non print. This will help the researcher get a comprehensive material to review and evaluate.

The researcher can get help from the librarian to find out relevant literature. In this regard, there are also various databases that can be helpful in locating relevant print and non print sources. The researcher should first select a broad literature that should be refined later to keep the ones that are highly relevant to the research question. There should be at least two people who screen the research that have been finalized to review. This will help in filtering only highly relevant research.

Step 3:

Develop research protocol

The researcher can design a detailed research protocol to use in the study. This research protocol will enable the researcher to use systematic and uniform methods during the review of the literature. The researcher can employ reviewers for the purpose of review. The reviewers need to have guidelines to review the literature. These guidelines or research protocol will bring uniformity in the way different reviewers review research.

Step 4:

Data extraction and summary

It is not easy to extract and summarize data from various studies. Especially, because different studies are conducted with different study designs and methodology. Therefore, the aim of the reviewer should be to locate any similarity and differences that exist in different studies conducted on the same research question. The reviewer should know the steps to take to extract the data and to summarize it.

Step 5:

Analyze and interpret findings

The last two steps of the systematic review are to analyze the findings and to interpret them. In these steps it is very important for the researcher to avoid any subjectivity and bias. The researcher should gather all the summarized literature and review it first. Later, the researcher provides an analysis that is based on similarities and difference between different literature. Also, the researcher can use graphs and tables to display this data.

The interpretation of the review should be based on the following:

  • What are the inconsistencies between different research?
  • What are the loopholes that need to be addressed?
  • Also, what is the credibility of the data that has been reviewed?
  • Is the methodology adopted in each of the research appropriate or not?
  • Finally, is there need for further studies on this topic?


  • Khan, K. S., Kunz, R., Kleijnen, J., & Antes, G. (2003). Five steps to conducting a systematic review. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine96(3), 118–121. doi:10.1258/jrsm.96.3.118
  • “Conducting a systematic review”. University of Minnesota, Bio-Medical Library.
  • Kahn, Kalid, et al, Systematic Reviews to Support Evidence-Based Medicine, Hodder Arnold, London, 2011.
  • Uman, Lindsay S. “Systematic reviews and meta-analyses.” Journal of the Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry = Journal de l’Academie canadienne de psychiatrie de l’enfant et de l’adolescent vol. 20,1 (2011): 57-9.



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