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Systematic Reviews

A guide to help you prepare for your systematic review

"The aim of reviewing systematically is to have such explicit, rigorous and accountable methods."

David Gough - An introduction to systematic reviews

A systematic review is a tightly structured literature review that focuses on a topic with strict research parameters. The methodology used to collect research has to be consistent in order to reduce misinterpretation and misrepresentation of the data.

The aim of a systematic review is to identify, analyse, appraise and arrive at a considered judgement or set of conclusions based on all the available information and data that adheres to the review's pre-determined set of conformities. Each piece of research material is examined and compared to other resources and summarised accordingly. Some people keep records such as a form or table summarising each reviewed article which they refer to when collating the evidence.

The purpose of following this very strict protocol is to gather evidence-based research that supports a balanced and unbiased conclusion. Statistical information can be extracted and analysed using a process known as meta-analysis.


Accountable: answerable, responsible and justified

Critical Appraisal: The assessment of evidence by systematically reviewing its relevance, validity and results to specific situations.

Explicit: a clear understandable statement of all the relevant details

Grey Literature: Research that is not published by a commercial publisher. This means it can sometimes be difficult to trace the research’s origin or the complete study. Grey literature can include conference proceedings, non-indexed journals (i.e. they are not on databases such as Medline), reports, and student dissertations and theses.

Map (systematic): a systematic description and analysis of the research field refined by a review question

Meta Analysis: A systematic method that takes data from a number of independent studies and integrates them using statistical analysis

Qualitative: Relate to, measure, or measured by the quality of something rather than its quantity

Quantitative: Relate to, measure, or measured by the quantity of something rather than its quality.

Review: a critical appraisal and analysis

Systematic: undertaken according to a fixed plan or system or method

Systematic Review: a review of the research literature using systematic and explicit accountable methods

Synthesis: creating something new from separate elements

What help Royal Holloway Library can give you?

The service is an advisory service. RHUL Library cannot conduct systematic reviews on behalf of staff, students or research/project groups.

If you are a postgraduate student embarking on a systematic review and need help with your searches, this guide should be a good starting point but you can also contact the library for support.