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Systematic Reviews: Where to start

A Synthesis and Evaluation of existing evidence

Steps to consider when conducting a systematic Review

conducting a systematic review involves several steps to ensure a comprehensive and unbiased analysis of existing literature on a particular topic. Here's a breakdown of the typical steps involved:

  1. Formulate a Research Question: Clearly define the research question or objective of the review. It should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART).

  2. Develop a Protocol: Create a detailed protocol outlining the review methods, inclusion/exclusion criteria, search strategy, data extraction procedures, and analysis plan. This protocol serves as a roadmap for the review process and helps maintain consistency.

  3. Search for Relevant Studies: Conduct a comprehensive search across multiple databases, such as PubMed, Scopus, Web of Science, etc., using relevant keywords and controlled vocabulary terms. Consider consulting with a librarian or information specialist to optimize the search strategy.

  4. Screening and Selection: Screen the retrieved articles based on predefined inclusion and exclusion criteria. Initially, screen titles and abstracts to identify potentially relevant studies, then assess the full-text articles for eligibility. Use tools like Covidence or Rayyan to manage the screening process efficiently.

  5. Data Extraction: Develop a standardized data extraction form to systematically extract relevant information from included studies. This may include study characteristics, participant demographics, intervention/exposure details, outcomes, and key findings.

  6. Quality Assessment: Evaluate the quality of included studies to assess their risk of bias or methodological limitations. Use appropriate tools such as the Cochrane Risk of Bias tool for randomized controlled trials or the Newcastle-Ottawa Scale for observational studies.

  7. Data Synthesis: Analyze and synthesize the extracted data to address the research question(s). This may involve quantitative meta-analysis if appropriate, or qualitative synthesis such as thematic analysis or narrative synthesis.

  8. Assessment of Publication Bias: Assess for publication bias by examining the possibility of selective publication of studies based on their results. This can be done using techniques like funnel plots or statistical tests such as Egger's test.

  9. Interpretation of Results: Interpret the findings of the review in the context of the research question and existing literature. Discuss the implications of the findings, including any strengths, limitations, and areas for future research.

  10. Report Writing: Prepare a detailed report of the systematic review following the PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses) guidelines. Include sections such as introduction, methods, results, discussion, and conclusions.

  11. Peer Review and Publication: Seek peer review from colleagues or experts in the field to ensure the quality and validity of the review. Once finalized, submit the review for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

Throughout the systematic review process, it's essential to maintain transparency, rigor, and reproducibility to ensure the reliability of the findings. Using appropriate tools and following established guidelines can help facilitate this process.