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Systematic Reviews: Systematic Review

This Guide will help to start and proceed through the main stages of systematic review

Getting Started

What is a systematic review?

"A scientific investigation that focuses on a specific question and that uses explicit, planned scientific methods to identify, select, assess, and summarize the findings of similar but separate studies. It may or may not include a quantitative synthesis of the results from separate studies (meta-analysis) depending on the available data." IOM p 1.

How Long Does it Take to Complete Systematic Review?

Planning and conducting a systematic review is a time intensive research project. Time to completion will vary depending on the scope of the review and the size and availability of the review team.  A well-designed systematic review may take a year or more to complete.

The Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions provides the following table showing estimated time for each task.

Table used with permission. Green S, Higgins JPT (editors). Chapter 2: Preparing a Cochrane review. In: Higgins JPT, Green S (editors). Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions Version 5.1.0 (updated March 2011). The Cochrane Collaboration, 2011. Available from

Need Guidance?

Finding What Works in Health Care: Standards for Systematic Reviews (full report). Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, The National Academy Press. 

Report at a Glance: Standards for Systematic Reviews. (brief list)

"These standards address the entire systematic review process, from locating, screening, and selecting studies for the review, to synthesizing the findings (including meta-analysis) and assessing the overall quality of the body of evidence, to producing the final review report.





The guide adapted with permission. Health Sciences Library System-University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

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