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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

  • 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 how much a topic has been studied, to what extent it is replicated. Some topics have been studied so many times that there is no need to replicate them again. There may be other topics that need to be studied in order to gain more insight.
  • It also explains inconsistencies in the different research conducted on the same topic.
  • Systematic review aims at determining the quality of work done on a specific research topic.

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 topic need to be formulated into a research question. This should be a structured, clear, and precise research question. The researcher should ask some questions before deciding about the research question:

  • Is it feasible to conduct a study on this research question?
  • Do you have time and other resources to conduct study on it?
  • Is this topic reviewed before or not?
  • Is sufficient literature available to 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. There are 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

A detailed research protocol needs to be designed that will be use din the study. This research protocol will enable the researcher to use systematic and uniform methods during the review of the literature. There might be reviewers employed by the researcher 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 that have been conducted with different study designs and methodology. 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 be taken 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. It is very important for the researcher to avoid any subjectivity and bias to be introduced in these steps. The researcher should gather all the summarized literature and review it first. Later, an analysis that is based on similarities and difference between different literature should be reported. 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?
  • What is the credibility of the data that has been reviewed?
  • Is the methodology adopted in each of the research appropriate or not?
  • 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.



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