The systematic review process

1.  Determine if a systematic review is an appropriate review methodology for your research question. 

2.  Check for recently published systematic reviews on your topic. (You do not want to duplicate work!)

3.  Gather experts for your systematic review team, including an information specialist experienced in systematic literature searching. 

4.  Write and register your systematic review protocol. 

5.  Carry out a thorough search of the literature.

6.  Screen and select studies based on your protocol.

7.  Perform data extraction.

8.  Assess the quality of the studies. 

9.  Synthesize the results. Perform meta-analysis, if a statistical component is included. 

10. Interpret the findings.

11. Write and publish your systematic review.


systematic review steps

Knowledge Translation Program, Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, St. Michael's Hospital Systematic Review and Network Meta-Analysis Process Diagram

Systematic reviews are considered the highest levels of evidence, but only if they are done rigorously.

systematic review process

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Systematic reviews are executed in a collaborative manner and take a substantial amount of time to complete. Systematic reviews can take approximately 12-18 months, from protocol to publication. 

A true systematic review cannot be conducted by one person. You will need:
•    Subject experts with clinical and methodological expertise;
•    Two people to review the results independently;
•    A third person or tiebreaker to make decisions if there is disagreement about a study meeting the inclusion criteria;
•    A statistician, if performing a meta-analysis;
•    An information specialist/medical librarian trained to conduct a systematic literature search.

Information Specialist Co-Authorship

Information specialists can:  

  • Design the search strategy, a substantive contribution to the study and acquisition of data
  • Write the methodology section detailing search strategies used
  • Edit the manuscript and provide approval of the methodology section
  • Agree to be accountable to the rest of the team members

Authors who do not wish to engage the information specialists as co-authors must acknowledge them as contributors. 


Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions
The Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions provides guidance to authors for the preparation of Cochrane Intervention reviews.

The Methodological Expectations of Cochrane Intervention Reviews (MECIR)

Finding What Works in Health Care: Standards for Systematic Reviews                                                        
By The Health and Medical Division of the National Academy of Sciences (formerly the Institute of Medicine)

Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA Statement)
The PRISMA Statement is an evidence-based reporting standard for systematic reviews. 

Systematic Reviews. Centre for Reviews and Dissemination, University of York
CRD’s guidance for undertaking reviews in health care.


Available through the University of Bern Library
(Link auf Listen in Swissbib, wird von der FBB hergestellt)



Available to borrow from the Library, click on the title for more information. 

Gough D, Oliver S, Thomas J, editors. An introduction to systematic reviews. Sage; 2017 Mar 28.

Higgins JP, Green S, editors. Cochrane handbook for systematic reviews of interventions. John Wiley & Sons; 2011 Aug 24.