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Shimberg Health Sciences Library & Florida Blue Health Knowledge Exchange

Evidence Synthesis / Systematic Reviews

Assemble your team. Develop your question. Check if this question has already been answered by a recent, high quality SR.

Assemble your team

To perform a true systematic review, you should have at least three people who have agree to be a part of the review.  It is important to identify these roles at the outset to avoid hiccups in the process.

  • Project lead: This person will ensure that the project meets minimum criteria and stays on schedule. This is typically the person who will submit the manuscript for publication.
  • Screeners: At least two individuals who have sufficient content expertise to decide whether articles meet the inclusion criteria or if they should be excluded for both the title/abstract screening and the full-text screening. This can be a time-intensive process depending on the number of articles identified in the search stage.  A third person with content expertise should be available to resolve any conflicts between decisions of the screeners.
  • Search specialist: This person will develop the appropriate search strategy, translate the searches to each database, and deduplicate the records in a manner that meets the established guidelines for a reproducible systematic review.
  • Statistician: This individual should have the statistical expertise to analyze the findings of the review. This is a critical role if you plan to conduct a meta-analysis.
  • Methodology expert: Ideally at least one person should have experience conducting a systematic review or you should have access to an advisor who is willing to help guide your team through the process.

Develop the Question

A well-defined, answerable research question is necessary to create a systematic review. Systematic reviews in the medical field typically follow the PICO framework to answer a clinical question. 

  • Patient or Population: What characteristics of the patient/population are necessary in order to answer the question? Try to be precise in this identification. For example, are you answering a question about all cancer patients or just HER-2 positive patients with inflammatory breast cancer?
  • Intervention: What is the intervention, prognostic factor, or treatment under consideration?
  • Comparison: What is the comparator, if any?
  • Outcome: What are the expected outcomes, improvements, or measures that you hope to find?

Verify that your question has not already been answered

Once you have your research question, make sure that it has not already been answered in the existing medical literature. If you find an existing systematic review (or reviews), evaluate them carefully. You should proceed with your review only if you feel that existing reviews you found are not recent enough, had flaws in the methodology or reporting, or if your review will address a unique aspect. (HINT: Document this step as you will likely be asked to justify this to journal editors and/or as part of the peer review process.)