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Systematic Reviews: Data Management

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


Developing a  protocol (a detailed description of the objectives and methods of the review) allows you to begin thinking about the data management requirements of your project, which include extensive documentation of the process that produces the final sample of studies used in the review.

We encourage the creation of a "lab notebook" and update it on a regular basis as the systematic review proceeds. The purpose of such a notebook (which can be print or electronic) is to keep track of progress on the project and to document important decisions and changes in the project as it proceeds. These documented details can be valuable in the event of staffing changes or lapses in the project timeline, and may be particularly helpful in development of a final manuscript. 

Prisma Flow Diagram

The PRISMA Flow Diagram depicts the flow of information through the different phases of a systematic review. It maps out the number of records identified, included and excluded, and the reasons for exclusions.

The PRISMA Flow Generator online tool using an open source software to help create an image of the PRISMA Flow diagram. created by Toronto Health Economics and Technology Assessment Collaborative (THETA), University of Toronto.




Flow Diagram IN: Moher D, Liberati A, Tetzlaff J, Altman DG, The PRISMA Group (2009). Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses: The PRISMA Statement. PLoS Med 6(6): e1000097. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed1000097

Image used and distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License.

Tools for Managing a Systematic Review

Covidence: Covidence is an online systematic review management tool that allows for independent title/abstract screening, full text screening, data extraction and risk of bias assessment.  Individuals can use it for free once.

DistillerSR: DistillerSR is a popular tool for systematic review management.  It allows for the management of the entire systematic review process with multiple independent reviewers.  This tool is available with a monthly subscription fee.

Excel: Excel is the most basic tool for the management of the screening and data extraction stages of the systematic review process. Customized workbooks and spreadsheets can be designed for the review process, and lists of references can be exported from citation managers into Excel format for screening. 

Rayyan: Rayyan is a free online tool that can be used for independent screening and coding of studies in a systematic review. Rayyan uses tagging and filtering to code and organize references. 

RevMan: RevMan is used by Cochrane reviewers to manage the data extraction and analysis process. It is a free tool that is geared toward Cochrane-like reviews. 

Citation Management

Citation management is essential in a systematic review. There are a number of citation management tools available that are compatible with many of the databases and resources you'll use. It only takes a few minutes to set up an account with such tools as EndNoteZotero and Mendeley

To learn how to use these and other citation management tools, consider a workshop at NU Library.

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