Resources for planning, executing, and reporting a systematic or scoping review
A knowledge synthesis review uses explicit methods to identify, select, and critically appraise relevant research, and to collect and analyse data from the studies that are included in the review.
Essential components of knowledge synthesis reviews:
- Project protocol must be prepared before starting
- Explicit inclusion and exclusion criteria established prior to screening
- Documented, reproducible search methodology
- High-quality search strategy that attempts to identify ALL relevant studies (including grey literature)
- Rigorous and critical evaluation of the methodology of the selected studies
If you are considering undertaking a knowledge synthesis, the following resources may be useful. For assistance from the libraries, please visit our knowledge synthesis service page.
Selecting a Review Type
- University of Manitoba Libraries – Which Review Is Right For You?
- Knowledge Translation Program – Right Review
- Unity Health Toronto – Knowledge Synthesis Readiness Checklist
Systematic Review Methodology
- Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions
- Khan, K., Antes, G., Kleijnen, J., Kunz, R., & Taylor & Francis. (2011). Systematic reviews to support evidence-based medicine . CRC Press, an imprint of Taylor and Francis.
- Nelson, H. D. (2014). Systematic reviews to answer health care questions. Wolters Kluwer Health.
Scoping Review Methodology
- Peters MDJ, Godfrey C, McInerney P, Munn Z, Tricco AC, Khalil, H. Chapter 11: Scoping Reviews (2020 version). In: Aromataris E, Munn Z (Editors). JBI Manual for Evidence Synthesis, JBI, 2020. Available from https://synthesismanual.jbi.global. https://doi.org/10.46658/JBIMES-20-12.
Searching for prior reviews
Before beginning a knowledge synthesis review, you may want to search the journal literature to determine whether a review already been done on your topic.
- Does it need to be updated?
- Was the search strategy appropriate?
- Were the methods adequately reported?
- Were the inclusion/exclusion criteria appropriate?
- Did the authors evaluate the quality of the studies?
You should also check whether anyone is working on a similar topic by searching:
- PROSPERO, an international register of systematic review protocols.
- Open Science Framework, an international multimodal repository used to register scoping review protocols.
Writing a Protocol
- Systematic reviews: PROSPERO: International prospective register of systematic reviews
- Scoping reviews: Joanna Briggs Institute template for scoping review protocols (file will download to your hard drive)
- All knowledge synthesis reviews: PRISMA reporting standards for protocols
Where to search
Searches for knowledge synthesis reviews are extensive in order to ensure that as many eligible studies as possible are included in the review.
Minimum bibliographic databases to be searched (according to the Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions): CENTRAL registry of controlled trials, Medline (via Ovid or PubMed).
Additional databases should be considered according to the topic of your project.
Additional non-database sources to search: Trial registries, reference lists, grey literature (such as conference abstracts, dissertations, etc.).
Developing your search
- Training sessions on literature searching from the MUHC Libraries
- McGill Library – Systematic Reviews, Scoping Reviews, and other Knowledge Syntheses: Searching for Studies
- Frandsen, T. F., Bruun Nielsen, M. F., Lindhardt, C. L., & Eriksen, M. B. (2020). Using the full PICO model as a search tool for systematic reviews resulted in lower recall for some PICO elements. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, 127, 69–75. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclinepi.2020.07.005
- Gusenbauer, M., & Haddaway, N. R. (2021). What every researcher should know about searching – clarified concepts, search advice, and an agenda to improve finding in academia. Research Synthesis Methods, 12(2), 136–147. https://doi.org/10.1002/jrsm.1457
Bibliographic management software
Bibliographic management programs such as Zotero or EndNote allow you to save and organize references from your search.
- Zotero is free to download for everyone.
- Endnote is available to McGill residents, students, research personnel or attending staff for download via McGill University.
- EndNote training sessions are offered on a regular basis in the MUHC Libraries. To view dates of sessions and to register, visit our Upcoming Classes/Workshops.
Screening tools such as Rayyan allow you and your team members to screen your results effectively.
Rayyan is free to use for anyone: https://www.rayyan.ai/
The MUHC Libraries have also prepared tutorials to help you get started:
- Getting Started with Rayyan: Creating a review, adding citations and inviting collaborators
- Basics of Screening with Rayyan
Polanin, J. R., Pigott, T. D., Espelage, D. L., & Grotpeter, J. K. (2019). Best practice guidelines for abstract screening large-evidence systematic reviews and meta-analyses. Research Synthesis Methods, 10(3), 330–342. https://doi.org/10.1002/jrsm.1354
Risk of bias & quality assessment
- University of Bristol Population Health Sciences – ROBIS Resources
- University of Hawai’i at Manoa Health Libraries – Systematic Review Toolbox: Quality Assessment
- University of Hawai’i at Manoa Health Libraries – Systematic Review Toolbox: Data Extraction
- Dalhousie University Libraries – Knowledge Synthesis: Data Extraction and Management
- Taylor, K. S., Mahtani, K. R., & Aronson, J. K. (2021). Summarising good practice guidelines for data extraction for systematic reviews and meta-analysis. BMJ evidence-based medicine, 26(3), 88–90. https://doi.org/10.1136/bmjebm-2020-111651
The following titles are available as eBooks from the McGill library (accessible to McGill faculty, residents, fellows and students):
Reporting items for all knowledge synthesis reviews
Reporting items for systematic reviews
Reporting items for scoping reviews