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Systematic reviews: SR work process

PRISMA Checklist

The PRISMA checklist gives both an overview and detailed description of each part of a SR.

PRISMA stands for "Preferred Items for Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis".

Read more about the PRISMA statement, PRISMA 2020 checklist og flowchart here: 

PRISMA 2020 guidelines

Updating guidance for reporting systematic
reviewsdevelopment of the 
PRISMA 2020 statement.

Page MJ, McKenzie JE, Bossuyt PM, Boutron I, Hoffmann TC, Mulrow CD, Shamseer L, Tetzlaff JM, Moher D.J Clin Epidemiol. 2021 Jun;134:103-112. doi: 10.1016/j.jclinepi.2021.02.003. Epub 2021 Feb 9.PMID: 33577987

Examples of SR with PRISMA 2020

VAN KESSEL, Robin; WONG, Brian Li Han. Building Back Better after COVID-19: a systematic scoping review of wicked problems affecting developed countries and implications for global governance. medRxiv, 2021.
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Workflow for a Systematic Review

In the process of planning and completing a medical systematic review you'll work with the following stages: 


Structure of a SR- TIMRAD

Most articles use the TIMRAD structure.

  • Title
    The title is important as it is the first introduction readers have to your work. It needs to be precise and describe the contents of the article.
  • Introduction
    Includes the research question, which is often translatable into a PICO or similar, In the introduction, explain the problem and the importance of finding an answer or testing the hypothesis. The introduction places the research question in a broader perspective by including background information and connecting to existing knowledge on the subject.
  • Methods
    Describe and list the choice of databases and other resources used in the search. Present the search terms, inclusion and exclusion criteria (e.g. gender, age, population group) and chosen limits (e.g. time period and language). The search design and process is carefully described, electronic searches linked to as supplementary materials and methodological choices rationalised. The PRISMA flowchart can be included in the methods section.  
  • Results
    Present qualitative and quantitative data analysis from the primary sources. 
    State the findings/results of the research arranged in a logical sequence without bias or interpretation. 
  • Discussion
    interpret and describe the significance of your findings in light of what was already known about the research problem being investigated.
    Refer to the introduction, the research questions or hypotheses you posed and the evidence you have reviewed.
    Discuss how your findings advance knowledge on the subject as well as the implications.. 

Time requirements

The conduct of SRs can be a time-consuming, cost- and resource-intensive task 

It can easily take from 3 months and up. This estimate includes the stages identifying the problem, designing and conducting the search, collecting references, screening, sythesis of the evidence to writing the article. Remember to add submission and time spent on peer review and revisions.

How many references to screen?

To be able to answer your research question, you must ensure that your search has been as explorative and comprehensive as possible. You have done everything possible to unearth relevant evidence.

How many databases to search?

It is very common for SR authors to search a minimum of 3 databases. Dependent on the subject, it can be necessary to search across more resources, particularly if you are working with a cross-disciplinary research question.

Conducting a SR: A process overview

Designed by Jessica Kaufman, Cochrane Consumers & Communication Review Group, Centre for Health Communication & Participation, La Trobe University, 2011.

What authors do