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Systematic Reviews

All about systematic reviews: what they are, their history, types, how to read them, how to conduct them, and how to get help with them from the library.

What kind of support can OHSU librarians provide for your systematic review?

OHSU librarians can support your review in a variety of ways, depending on what your team needs. Book a meeting to get things started.

We can support your team with the research question and process by:

  • Helping your team choose the right type of review for your research question
  • Guiding your team through the systematic review methodology and process
  • Helping refine research questions based on available evidence

We can assist with all aspects of the literature search by:

  • Selecting appropriate literature databases and sources for grey literature
  • Developing the search strategy and translating it across databases
  • Executing searches and exporting results for screening
  • Providing detailed and reproducible search strategy documentation

We can participate in the production of project outputs by:

  • Writing the search methodology section of the protocol and manuscript
  • Documenting searches in manuscript appendices or supplemental data files
  • Helping ensure the manuscript adheres to the PRISMA reporting guidelines
  • Providing editorial feedback on the manuscript

We can assist with software by:

  • Providing advice on choosing software tools to support the systematic review process
  • Providing training for citation management software

Things to know about librarian support for your systematic review:

  • OHSU Librarians prefer to be actively involved in the development of the search strategy for your systematic review
  • Systematic review best practices recommend that the search be developed, translated, and conducted by a single search expert, rather than by multiple team members, to ensure the search is consistently and comparably translated across databases
  • Multiple interactions and your feedback will be required to identify the greatest number of relevant studies, so please book an appointment at least four weeks before you hope to begin screening abstracts
  • We recommend including time to request articles not held in the Library's collections via our Get It For Me service in your project plan

Additional Information

How should you prepare to meet with a systematic review librarian?

Before you meet with a systematic review librarian, you should:

  • Have a preliminary version of your research question ready
  • Be prepared to share a list of citations for any exemplar articles
  • Be prepared to communicate timelines and/or deadlines for completion
  • Have identified team members
  • Compile your questions about the systematic review process

If you are meeting about an update to an existing systematic review, please be prepared to share the citation to the published review and links to any supporting materials.

Once you're ready to meet with a librarian about your systematic review project, use the links below to book an appointment online or in-person at the Biomedical Information Communication Center (BICC). We look forward to working with you!

Why should you include a librarian on your systematic review team?

We strongly encourage systematic review teams include a librarian to oversee the literature searching phase of the project. The construction and execution of literature searches play an essential role in the development of systematic reviews.

Librarians help improve the quality of systematic reviews by:

  • Developing search strategies that are comprehensive, retrieving the greatest number of relevant articles, which improves the accuracy and validity of the systematic review results
  • Developing search strategies that are precise, omitting irrelevant articles to avoid overwhelming screeners
  • Perfecting search strategies by creating multiple iterations before constructing the final strategy
  • Selecting the most appropriate databases in which to conduct searches
  • Documenting search strategies with sufficient detail to make them reproducible

Additional Information

When should you give authorship credit to your systematic review librarian?

It is appropriate to give authorship credit whenever your systematic review librarian has actively made an intellectual contribution to the production of outputs intended for publication. Using the ICMJE authorship recommendations as a guide, this means librarians should be granted authorship when all the following criteria have been met:

  • The librarian acquires project data through the development, translation, and execution of the search strategy and export of search results for screening
  • The librarian makes written contributions to protocols and manuscripts, including drafting and authoring methods sections and producing search strategy documentation in manuscript appendices or supplemental data files
  • The librarian provides editorial review and final approval of the manuscript as a whole
  • The librarian contributes to the integrity of the work by ensuring the review employs the Cochrane or JBI methodologies and that the manuscript fulfills the reporting requirements of the PRISMA Statement

When all these criteria are met, OHSU librarians agree to take responsibility for the work and accountability for what is published as part of their role as co-authors and search directors for the project.

In situations where only some of these criteria are met, authorship credit is not required, but at minimum acknowledgement should be given in the manuscript for the contributions made to the project.

For more information about determining authorship vs contribution, please see the ICMJE link below.

Additional Information

Can students get help with systematic reviews?

Students are sometimes assigned systematic review projects by instructors, preceptors, or PIs, and on occasion students decide for themselves that they want to do a systematic or scoping review project. Because students are responsible for completing their own work, OHSU Librarians are unable to develop search strategies for student-led systematic review projects.

Additionally, we would like to highlight some potential issues with student-led systematic review projects:

  • Students are not search experts and therefore may not be equipped to produce the thorough and precise literature search that a systematic review requires
  • Students who are assigned systematic review projects are sometimes asked to do so in a solo capacity, and therefore lack the team effort necessary to screen publications in an unbiased manner
  • Students may not have the time required to complete a systematic review, which is typically a lengthy process

There are other good ways for students to work with systematic reviews, such as:

  • Being included in systematic review teams, where they can learn about systematic review methodologies under the mentorship of other experienced reviewers
  • Reading and evaluating existing systematic reviews and developing an understanding of systematic review methodologies
  • Learning from librarians how to develop search strategies for systematic reviews
  • Working as part of a team of students to produce another type of review in the systematic review family, such as rapid reviews, or working on systematic review projects that may not be intended for publication

OHSU Librarians are happy to support student projects by providing feedback on student-developed literature search strategies. Please fill out the feedback form linked below to have a librarian review the search strategy you have developed.

Additional Information