Systematic review resources

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Resources for planning, executing, and reporting a systematic review

A systematic 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 a systematic review:

  • Precise clinical question
  • Explicit inclusion and exclusion criteria established prior to publication
  • 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
  • Quantitative summary of the included studies (including meta-analysis if appropriate)

If you are considering undertaking a systematic review, the following resources may be useful. Contact your MUHC librarian for assistance or to find out more about our systematic review service.

Process Overview


Searching for Prior Systematic Reviews
Before beginning a systematic 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 may also want to check whether anyone is working on a similar topic by searching PROSPERO, an international prospective register of systematic reviews.

Writing a Protocol
Writing a protocol helps ensure you have addressed all the key aspects of the SR, including the rationale, hypothesis, and planned methods of the review. Guidance is available through the PRISMA-P statement.

Once written, we strongly recommended you make your protocol publicly available. Registering your protocol increases transparency and potentially reduces waste through duplication of research effort.


Searches for systematic 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)

While it is generally accepted that database searches for systematic reviews usually retrieve a large number of results, there is little readily available data on retrieval of searches supporting systematic reviews. However, MUHC Librarians recently completed a study which found that searches in support of Cochrane reviews generally retrieve between 1000-2500 results.

Additional sources to search:

  • Trial registries
  • Reference lists
  • Grey literature (such as conference abstracts, dissertations, etc.)

To request support for your systematic review, contact your MUHC librarian. Please complete the MUHC Libraries’ Work Plan for a Systematic Review of the Literature and prior to the first meeting.

Essential Tool: a citation management software
Bibliographic management programs such as EndNote allow you to save and organize references from your search.

McGill residents, students, research personnel or attending staff can download and install the Endnote software on their personal computers 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.

Items to include when reporting the results of a SR:

Items to include when writing SR abstracts for journals and conferences:


Additional Reading