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Systematic Reviews: Managing search results

Managing your results

This is a vital step in your systematic review because duplicate studies and multiple reports from the same study, if not identified and eliminated, can lead to a skewed systematic review and because you also need to make sure that you only select studies that meet your inclusion and exclusion criteria.

Since systematic review literature searching is likely to produce many results, the only practical way to manage them is by using reference management software. QMU subscribes to EndNote but you can also use Mendeley. The library has produced introductory guides for both Endnote and Mendeley. Please also see our full guide to Referencing which provides in depth advice and videos on all aspects of citing and referencing. 

Given that a comprehensive literature search is likely to retrieve a number of duplicate results, to save you time in having to review and read duplicate records or publications, both RefWorks and Mendeley facilitate the elimination of duplicate references. Please see the de-duplication guides below for details. 

Once you have removed your duplicates, you have to decide whether the remaining results meet the inclusion or exclusion criteria decided upon in your protocol. To review them, read the title and abstract to get a sense of what the article is about and if that does not give you enough information to make a decision, read the full text. You must pay attention to duplicate publication which can not only be identical articles but different publications reporting on the same study and these may be difficult to spot at a first glance. Eliminating duplicates is essential to eliminate bias as duplicates would skew your results. To help you with this, read this paragraph Identifying multiple reports from the same study from the Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions.