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Syracuse University Libraries

Systematic Reviews

General procedures to help guide researchers through the elements of a systematic review

What is a systematic review?

A systematic review is a comprehensive review of the literature conducted by a research team using systematic and transparent methods in accordance with reporting guidelines to answer a well-defined research question. It aims to identify and synthesize scholarly research published in commercial and/or academic sources as well as in grey (or gray) literature produced by individuals or organizations in order to reduce bias and provide all available evidence for informing practice and policy-making. Systematic reviews may also include a meta-analysis, a more quantitative process of synthesizing and visualizing data retrieved from various studies.

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Tsafnat, G., Glasziou, P., Choong, M.K. et al. Systematic review automation technologiesSyst Rev 3, 74 (2014).

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SU Libraries & Systematic Reviews

The Librarians Role in Systematic Reviews & Related Evidence Synthesis Reviews/Studies

Systematic reviews, scoping reviews, and other related evidence synthesis studies are a significant undertaking and require both time (typically 18 months) and specific training, skills, and resources to complete. Currently there are two SU Librarians who have participated in systematic review related studies (scoping review, rapid review, etc.) and who have been trained in the methods, tools, and guidelines necessary to complete a systematic review. 

Per the PRISMA guidelines, which are the standards researchers should adhere to when completing a systematic review, a team of at least 3 researchers are needed to complete a systematic review or related evidence synthesis study. Librarians are sometimes involved with the process of completing a systematic review or related study, from acting as an expert consultant to occasionally, acting as a full member of the review team. Common librarian contributions and expected level of attribution based on the librarians contributions are outlined below. 

SU Libraries are committed to supporting researchers who choose to participate/take on a systematic review or related study. SU Libraries provides significant resources in support of the completion of systematic reviews and other evidence synthesis studies through the procurement of literature databases needed to complete the comprehensive searching component, some of which include Scopus, Web of Science, Dimensions, and other subject specific literature indexes like ComDisDome and Social Work Abstracts. Additionally, SU librarians have developed a guide to help researchers navigate the systematic review process. 

However, the availability of librarian time to support and/or participate in a systematic review or related study is limited.  If interested in having a librarian support and/or participate in your systematic review, please fill out the following form to provide basic information about your study and indicate the level of support you hope to receive from a librarian. The ability of the librarian to participate, and at what level, is dependent on their availability and any prior systematic review requests received. As a general rule, any questions involving the development and/or significant revision of a search strategy constitute the librarian being included as a co-author on the final published study. Search strategy development and the translation of that strategy across databases is an incredibly time intensive process. Additionally, documentation of the search strategy is typically a required component of the methods section for systematic reviews and related studies. 

Level 1 - Librarian as Basic Consultant (1 to 4 hours total time contributed over the course of the review) 

A librarian’s input is often beneficial during the early stages of study development. Discussions with the librarian may focus on the following: 

  • Provide background information and resources to help identify the best research method for your project (i.e. systematic review, scoping review, rapid review, etc.) 
  • Advise on the existing guidelines, workflow, and tools used for a systematic review and/or related evidence synthesis method
  • Provide guidance on appropriateness and formatting of the research question(s)
  • Recommend databases, grey literature, and other information sources to be used in the comprehensive literature search

  • Provide guidance during the review phases of the study

The librarian may provide one or more basic consultations about the systematic review and/or evidence synthesis process throughout the duration of the study. These consultations should not exceed 4 hours in total. This level does not include work on search strategy or continued guidance throughout the duration of the study. 

Level 2 - Librarian as Participating Investigator (3 to 8 hours total time contributed over the course of the review) 

The librarian may provide two or more consultations and/or attend occasional meetings of the review team. These consultations should not exceed 8 hours in total time contributed over the duration of the review. Please note that if a librarian becomes regularly involved with the study team, beyond occasional contributions/consultations, then they should be considered a co-author on the study, as the workflow and carrying out the study according to the established guidelines are a critical component of a successful systematic review or related evidence synthesis study. Additionally, acting as a participating investigator does not include development and/or translation of the search strategy across resources. Please see this basic guidance on participating investigator attribution: International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE): Defining the Role of Authors and Contributors.   

Contributions may include the Basic Consultant Level of service in addition to some of the following. 

  • Assistance with a probing literature search to determine if a systematic review has already been done on a proposed research question
  • Providing training and/or guidance for research team members on developing search strategies or inclusion/exclusion criteria,  
  • Discussing the nuances of different literature databases and resources for a better understanding of the types of studies included in each, along with providing strategies and guidance for completing comprehensive searches in those resources 
  • Identifying, applying, and/or interpreting evidence synthesis guidelines and other resources throughout the life of the project
  • Assisting with the selection and implementation of common systematic review tools, such as CADIMA, Covidence, Zotero, EndNote, etc  (add link to tools in guide)., to help the team with workflow management and adherence to best practices and guidelines

Level 3 - Librarian as Co-Author (8 or more hours total time contributed over the course of the review, and/or assists with the creation and execution of the search strategy used in the study then documented in the final publication) 

The librarian may be semi-regularly involved at different stages throughout the systematic review/evidence synthesis study, from study design to manuscript completion, in many cases the librarian will also develop portions of the search strategy for one or more database searches, and will write or assist with developing the methods section and/or tables/graphs that document the search strategy for the resulting manuscript/publication, this may also include development of the PRISMA flow diagram, or related supplemental materials. At this level, the librarian will be included as a co-author on the final publication, and their level of contribution and involvement with the study should be reflected in the submitted author order. 

Contributions may include the Basic Consultant Level and the Participating Investigator Level in addition to some of the following: 

  • Collaborate with the team to translate the research question into reproducible search strategies for each relevant databases
  • Develop search strategies and carry out comprehensive literature searches across one or more databases/resources
  • Deliver search results in formats that can work with citation management tools and other systematic review software
  • Maintain records of search steps and results that are often included as a table or supplemental material, in addition to being detailed in the methods section of the manuscript
  • Write or edit relevant portions of the methods section
  • Update searches as needed throughout the duration of the study