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Nursing Guide: Systematic reviews

This Guide has been created to help Nursing students find Library resources

What is a Systematic Review?

A systematic review attempts to collect and analyze all evidence that answers a specific question.  The question must be clearly defined and have inclusion and exclusion criteria. A broad and thorough search of the literature is performed and a critical analysis of the search results is reported and ultimately provides a current evidence-based answer  to the specific question (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, n.d.).

Key characteristics of a Systematic Review

  • a clearly stated set of objectives with pre-defined eligibility criteria for studies
  • an explicit, reproducible methodology
  • a systematic search that attempts to identify all studies that would meet the eligibility criteria
  • an assessment of the validity of the findings of the included studies, for example through the assessment of risk of bias
  • a systematic presentation, and synthesis, of the characteristics and findings of the included studies.

                                                                                                                  (Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions, 2011)

Why are Systematic Reviews undertaken?

"Systematic literature reviews including meta-analyses are invaluable scientific activities. The rationale for such reviews is well established. Health care providers, researchers, and policy makers are inundated with unmanageable amounts of information; they need systematic reviews to efficiently integrate existing information and provide data for rational decision making. Systematic reviews establish whether scientific findings are consistent and can be generalised across populations, settings, and treatment variations, or whether findings vary significantly by particular subsets. Meta-analyses in particular can increase power and precision of estimates of treatment effects and exposure risks. Finally, explicit methods used in systematic reviews limit bias and, hopefully, will improve reliability and accuracy of conclusions (Mulrow, 1994)."

Steps in a Systematic Review

A systematic review involves the following steps:  

  1. Check for existing reviews/protocols. If a systematic review answering your question has been conducted, or is being undertaken, you may need to amend or refine your question
  2. Formulate a specific research question that is clear and focused. Use the PICO tool (for quantitative reviews) or PICo (for qualitative reviews)
  3. Develop and register your protocol, including the rationale for the review, and eligibility criteria
  4. Design a robust search strategy that is explicit and reproducible
  5. Conduct a comprehensive search of  the literature by searching the relevant databases and other sources  
  6. Select and critically appraise the quality of included studies
  7. Extract relevant data from individual studies and use established methods to synthesise the data
  8. Interpret your results and prepare a comprehensive report on all aspects of your systematic review. Present your findings so that they can be translated into clinical practice.

Have a look at the Monash University Systematic Review Guide for more detailed instructions. 

Systematic Review Tools

Where to find Systematic Reviews at CDU Library

Open web sources

Cochrane Interactive learning Modules

Self-directed learning resources on conducting a complete systematic review process for both new and experienced review authors. You will need to create your own account.


Systematic Review Accelerator

Sign up to use the Institute for Evidence-Based Healthcare's tools to help in compiling a Systematic Literature Review.


Campbell Collaboration

Campbell Systematic Reviews is the peer-reviewed online monograph series of systematic reviews prepared under the editorial control of the Campbell Collaboration. Campbell systematic reviews follow structured guidelines and standards for summarizing the international research evidence on the effects of interventions in crime and justice, education, international development, and social welfare.

Campbell Systematic Reviews is published bimonthly. Issues contain reviews only, not protocols or title registration documents. These may be retrieved from The Campbell Library.


Systematic Reviews Journal

Systematic Reviews encompasses all aspects of the design, conduct and reporting of systematic reviews. The journal aims to publish high quality systematic review products including systematic review protocols, systematic reviews related to a very broad definition of health, rapid reviews, updates of already completed systematic reviews, and methods research related to the science of systematic reviews, such as decision modeling. The journal also aims to ensure that the results of all well-conducted systematic reviews are published, regardless of their outcome.

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