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Systematic Reviews: Home

How the library can help

Your liaison librarian can help with:

  • Information about search fundamentals of databases to effectively navigate and extract results.
  • Brief reviews of search strategies to advise on potential improvements.
  • Guidance on the QMU reference management tools.

You can find out who your liaison librarian is and how to contact them in your subject specific library guide. 

The library team delivers regular workshops on a variety of topics, including reference management, and you can find out more about these here


A short video explaining what systematic reviews are, their purpose, and a quick explanation on how they can be done.


Another short video explaining what systematic reviews are, their purpose, and the stages involved.

Books and Ebooks available from the library - click for more details

What is a systematic review?

A systematic review provides an unbiased overview of all available high quality primary research relating to a particular research question. The purpose of a systematic review is to identify, select, synthesize, and appraise the research in order to answer the research question. 

Systematic reviews are often used in health, education, and social policy, where they are part of evidence based policy and practice. But this type of review is also used in other subject areas. 

Systematic reviews follow a strict methodology and are characterised by the following: 

  • Their aim is to answer a focused question.
  • They use a comprehensive search strategy that is well-documented and reproducible.
  • The review should identify all studies relevant to the research question. This includes both published and unpublished studies.
  • All retrieved results should be evaluated for inclusion and level of quality.
  • The systematic review reports on the findings in an unbiased way and provides an objective summary of the studies.
  • Systematic reviews can be undertaken by more than one researcher in order to avoid bias, sometimes large teams are involved. 
  • Large systematic reviews can take a long time to complete.

Adapted from: and


Stages of a systematic review

The steps of a Systematic Review

These are the 7 stages of a systematic review. You can learn more about each one by going to the relevant tab at the top of this guide.

1. Formulate your question and develop your protocol: Your first step is to devise a focused, clear question which your review will address. You then need to develop a protocol which outlines the study methodology.

2. Decide where to search and develop a search strategy: Remember that you need to search for both published and unpublished studies.

3. Run and record your searches: You need to be systematic at this stage: have a clear search strategy, record the steps you take and the results you get.

4. Decide on how to manage your search results: You may need to learn how to use a reference management system such as EndNote or Mendeley.

5. Evaluate the search results: In this stage, you evaluate the articles that you have retrieved against the inclusion and exclusion criteria established in your protocol.

6. Summarise the evidence: This is often called synthesising, and can include statistical methods.

7. Write up your research: Report on your findings using the PRISMA checklist and flowchart.

Adapted from and

Different types of reviews

Systematic Review

Systematic Literature Review

Scoping Review

Literature Review


Brings together all available studies on a research question in order to answer it.

A subjective summary of the literature on a topic.

Initial assessment of available literature on a topic, and its nature. Often includes research still in progress.

Generic term. A review of published material. Comprehensiveness varies.


Extensive, including unpublished and grey literature. Comprehensive search strategy fully accounted for in appendices.

Comprehensive search of published literature, with a detailed search strategy.

Limits determined by the scope and time restraints.

May or may not be comprehensive.


A detailed protocol, usually using PICO.

May or may not include element of quality assessment.

No formal assessment of quality.

May or may not include quality assessment.

Synthesis and Analysis

Resources evaluated against strict criteria, often by more than one researcher.

Often done by a single researcher, thus open to bias.

Often in tabular format with added comments.

The type of analysis can be chronological/ conceptual/ thematic etc

Adapted from and