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Systematic Reviews

A guide for planning and conducting systematic reviews and other types of evidence synthesis.

How is a systematic review different from a traditional/narrative review article?


  Systematic Review Narrative Review 
Definition Rigorous, highly structured, and comprehensive synthesis of evidence.  Broad overview of the literature on a topic.
Research Question

Stated as a well-defined, answerable question.

Clearly focused and structured according to PICO or other question format.

May have a broad topic rather than a structured and focused research question. 
Goal Synthesize Summarize
Purpose Inform, Guide, Develop Explore, Explain, Comment
Scope Specific Broad
Number of Authors Minimum: Three Minimum: One
Value Synthesizes the results of multiple primary research studies Provides overview of evidence base
Limitations Time and resource intensive.  Lacks rigor and reproducibility. 

What is a systematic review?

A systematic review is a type of evidence synthesis, or, a study of studies. Conducting a systematic review requires deliberate and transparent research methods to identify the totality of a body of evidence, to critically appraise it, and to synthesize the results across multiple studies, and to present/disseminate your findings. 

What is meta-analysis?

Depending on the review question, a systematic review may include a meta-analysis (a quantitative analysis), which uses statistical methods to combine results from two or more studies. Meta-analyses can provide insight into study heterogeneity and can also resolve controversies between conflicting studies. A meta-analysis can only be conducted if a systematic review includes studies with appropriate data. Results of a meta-analyses are typically presented in a forest plot.