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A systematic review critically gathers, evaluates, and synthesizes all available research on a specific question through a structured protocol to guide evidence-based conclusions.

About Systematic Review

A systematic review is a high-level research synthesis that aims to collect and critically analyze all relevant studies on a specific research question or topic area, following a predefined protocol. It involves a detailed and comprehensive search strategy to identify all available published and unpublished evidence. This process includes selecting studies based on inclusion and exclusion criteria, assessing the quality of the included studies, and using statistical methods (meta-analysis) to combine results from several studies, when appropriate, to draw overall conclusions. A systematic review aims to provide an extensive summary of currently available literature relevant to a research question, minimizing bias by systematically collecting, evaluating, and synthesizing all relevant studies. It offers valuable insights for healthcare professionals, policymakers, and researchers, guiding evidence-based practice and informing future research directions.

What is a systematic review

"A systematic review attempts to identify, appraise, and synthesize all the empirical evidence that meets pre-specified eligibility criteria to answer a research question. Researchers conducting systematic reviews use explicit methods aimed at minimizing bias to produce more reliable findings that can be used to inform decision-making." (Cochrane). We are pleased to welcome the Imam Abdulrahman Bin Faisal University Library's systematic review, LibGuide."

What are the types of systematic review?

There are many types of systematic reviews, and they each have a slightly different purpose and methodology.

  • Rapid review: narrow, quick search and assessment of very specific question
  • Scoping review: assessment of potential size and scope of available literature
  • Integrative review: includes qualitative, quantitative, and theoretical
  • Umbrella review: a review of systematic reviews

For details of other review types, see

Grant M., Booth A. A typology of reviews: an analysis of 14 review types and associated methodologies (link opens in a new window). Health Information & Libraries Journal. 2009;26(2):91-108.

Liaison Librarian

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Dr. Shakil Ahmad
Technical Section Unit, Room 119
Directorate of Library Affairs,
Central Library, Building A3,
East Campus, Imam Abdulrahman bin Faisal University, Dammam, Saudi Arabia
Office Extension: 013 3332816

Systematic review timeline

A systematic review is carried out in several stages. The timeline that follows shows the various phases.

When building the search and screening, it will save a ton of time if you take the time at the beginning of your review to ensure you are asking the right question and phrasing it correctly.

Every step of the review process should be documented, including search tactics, inclusion and exclusion criteria for screening, the process for evaluating publications, and the methods for extracting and critically analyzing data. This documentation will be useful when it comes time to write and submit the systematic review for publication or evaluation.

Simple Steps to do Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

Dear Students and Faculty Members:

السلام عليكم ورحمة الله

I am pleased to share my practical experience of doing systematic reviews and meta-analyses with you.

Systematic reviews and meta-analyses are rigorous and detailed processes that require careful planning and execution. Here's an enhanced and more detailed guide based on your initial steps, including additional points for clarity and improvement:

1. Define Your Research Question
Start by deciding on a clear and focused research question. Use the PICO framework (population, intervention, comparison, outcome) to structure your question, guiding your search strategy and inclusion/exclusion criteria.

2. Develop a Search Strategy
Craft a comprehensive search strategy to identify relevant studies. Use AI tools like ChatGPT, Bing, or Gemini to brainstorm keywords and phrases. Remember, a well-defined strategy includes synonyms, related terms, and Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT).

3. Select Relevant Databases
You can choose databases that best match your research area. While Web of Science and OVID Medline are excellent starting points, open-access databases such as PubMed, Dimensions, OpenAlex, Google Scholar, Semantic Scholar, and CORE Repository are also good for broader coverage.

4. Manage References
Use Zotero Reference Manager to import, deduplicate, and organize your records. This step is crucial for maintaining an organized review process. You can create a dedicated folder for your project in Zotero to access and manage your references easily.

5. Screen Studies with Rayyan
Import your de-duplicated records into Rayyan, a web tool designed for systematic review screening. Rayyan facilitates collaboration, allowing team members to screen records for inclusion or exclusion independently. Utilize its features to streamline the selection process.

6. Protocol Registration
Register your review protocol with a registry like PROSPERO for human and non-human studies. This step enhances transparency and reduces the risk of duplication. You can include your research question, methodology, and analysis plan in the registration.

7. Full-Text Screening and Quality Assessment
After obtaining full-text articles, perform a second-level screening to ensure they meet your inclusion criteria. Use appropriate quality assessment tools for randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and non-RCTs, such as the Cochrane Risk of Bias Tool for RCTs and the ROBINS-I for non-RCTs.

8. Data Extraction and Synthesis
Extract data from included studies systematically. Consider using a standardized data extraction form. For qualitative synthesis, summarize findings narratively. If conducting a meta-analysis, select studies with sufficient statistical information.

9. Conduct Meta-Analysis
Use Review Manager (RevMan 5.4 or later versions) for meta-analysis. This step involves the statistical pooling of data from selected studies to estimate the effect size of an intervention. Please make sure you have a clear understanding of statistical methods and heterogeneity assessment.

10. Reporting Results
Follow the PRISMA 2020 guidelines for reporting your systematic review and meta-analysis. This includes a flow diagram of study selection, tables summarizing study characteristics and findings, and a narrative synthesis or meta-analysis of the results.

11. Update Regularly
Systematic reviews should be updated regularly to incorporate new evidence. Please plan for future updates and specify the conditions under which your review will be updated.

Suggestions and Collaboration
Feel free to email me for suggestions, collaboration, or further discussion at

By enhancing and refining your initial guide, this revised version aims to provide a clearer roadmap for conducting systematic reviews and meta-analyses, ensuring rigour, transparency, and reproducibility in your research.

The Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions is an invaluable resource for detailed guidance on conducting systematic reviews. Additionally, the PRISMA website offers reporting tools and templates.

Dr. Shakil Ahmad