Skip to Main Content

Systematic Reviews

Learn about conducting systematic reviews

Step by Step: Systematic Review Handbooks

A systematic review uses specific procedures to locate, evaluate and synthesize the results of relevant research to address your research question. Procedures are explicitly defined in advance, in order to ensure transparency, reproducibility, and minimize bias. The below handbooks provide step by step guidance for conducting a systematic review. 

You may be required to follow a specific review standard or protocol, or you may use handbooks for more general guidance. This guide frequently references the Cochrane Handbook.

Basic Steps

Planning a Review & Research Question Development 

(Guide tabs 1-3)

  1. Assemble a team 
  2. Develop a specific question: Frameworks like PICO and FINER can help guide this process
  3. Specify inclusion/exclusion criteria
  4. Choose a standard (for exp., IOM, MECIR)
  5. Develop a protocol
  6. Consider registering your protocol (PROSPERO

Searching for Literature

(Guide tabs 4-6)

  1. Construct individual search strategies for Cochrane Summaries, PubMed and any other relevant databases (PsycINFO,, ICTRP, etc.)
  2. Run your searches in all databases
  3. Search grey literature (association websites, conference proceedings, theses and dissertations, contact researchers in the field) 

Managing & Documenting Search Results 

(Guide tab 7)

  1. Export all citations to a citation manager (see Tools & Software)
  2. De-duplicate records, keeping track of original numbers found, duplicates, and numbers after de-duplicating

Screening & Selecting Studies​

(Guide tab 8)

  1. Screen citations by title/abstract using inclusion/exclusion criteria 
  2. Obtain full-text of possibly relevant citations 
  3. Screen citations a second time by full-text. Record reasons for each excluded study

Extracting Data

(Guide tab 9)

  1. Extract findings and data from studies 
  2. Evaluate the quality and risk of bias of studies
  3. Tabulate characteristics of included studies

Writing your Review

(Guide tab 10)

  1. Synthesize findings and data; summarize findings 
  2. Write article (refer to reporting protocols such as the PRISMA checklist)
  3. Update searches if it's been more than 6 months and add relevant studies 
  4. Submit to journal

Adapted from MD Anderson Cancer Center