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Systematic Reviews

This guide explains the principles of systematic reviews and offers advice on getting started with your systematic literature search.

Getting Started

Are you ready to work with a librarian for your systematic review? We are happy to help!

Here are the steps to get started:

  1. Go to our Biomedical Library Expert Search Services (BLESS) portal.
  2. Create an account by clicking "Sign up for an account" on the right-hand side of the page (this only takes a minute). If you have any problems, please e-mail and we can create an account for you.
  3. Log in and click "Literature Search".
  4. You will see a form to input information about your request. Enter this information to the best of your ability.
  5. Please read "Library's role in systematic review" at the bottom and check the box to acknowledge this statement.
  6. Click "Create".
  7. One of our librarians will review your request and get back to you within 3 business days.

Please note: A protocol and full systematic review team (consisting of at least two people aside from the librarian) are required before we begin designing your search strategy.


Notice: Due to a large influx of requests, there may be an extended wait time for librarian support regarding advanced search strategies.

Working with the Librarian

What happens after you submit your request?

After we receive your request, we will be in touch within three (3) business days. At that point, you and your team will meet with the librarian (face-to-face or virtually) to discuss your protocol and research question. Based upon your requirements, the librarian will help to:

  • Recommend databases that would be best suited for your research question.
  • Recommend sources of grey literature.
  • Consult about reference management software.
  • Craft a research strategy with your feedback. The librarian will consult with you about search terms that may be relevant to your research question.
  • Translate final search strategy to other databases.
  • Search to find unpublished studies (i.e. grey literature).
  • Document search process and methodologies.
  • Obtain any full-text resources.
  • Write the search methods section of the paper.

According to the Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Review of Interventions. this search process can take between 3-8 months. Please keep this in mind when making your request.

Author Requirements

The systematic review process is a collaborative team effort. Librarians are included as authors on systematic review publications based on their contributions to the review:

  • Designing and conducting literature searches
  • Documenting search methods
  • Writing the search methods section of the paper

Since these constitute a major scholarly contribution to the study, we request co-authorship on the systematic review.

Steps of a Systematic Review

What happens after you enter your request? Here is an infographic which describes the different steps of a systematic review:

                                        An infographic of a funnel with the following steps from top to bottom: Identify the issue and determine the question, Write a plan for the review (protocol), Search for studies, Sift and select studies, Extract data from the studies, Assess the quality of the studies, Combine the data (synthesis or meta-anlysis), Discuss and conclude overall findings. This results in a systematic review which is then disseminated.

Licensed under Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0). Retrieved from the Cochrane Consumers and Communication Group Infographics page

The introduction of Finding What Works in Health Care: Standards for Systematic Reviews offers six steps in the systematic review process: 

Step 1: Initiate the process, organize the review team, develop a process for gathering user and stakeholder input, formulate the research question, and implement procedures for minimizing the impact of bias and conflict of interests (see standards in Chapter 2).

Step 2: Develop the review protocol, including the context and rationale for the review and the specific procedures for the search strategy, data collection and extraction, qualitative synthesis and quantitative data synthesis (if a meta-analysis is done), reporting, and peer review (see standards in Chapter 2).

Step 3: Systematically locate, screen, and select the studies for review (see standards in Chapter 3).

Step 4: Appraise the risk of bias in the individual studies and extract the data for analysis (see standards in Chapter 3).

Step 5: Synthesize the findings and assess the overall quality of the body of evidence (see standards in Chapter 4).

Step 6: Prepare a final report and have the report undergo peer review (see standards in Chapter 5).

From Conceptual Framework. Fundamentals of Systematic Reviews. In Finding What Works in Health Care: Standards for Systematic Reviews (full report). Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, The National Academy Press. pp. 26-27