A systematic review is a methodical and comprehensive literature synthesis focused on a well-formulated research question. Its aim is to identify and synthesize all of the scholarly research on a particular topic, including both published and unpublished studies. Systematic reviews are conducted in an unbiased, reproducible way to provide evidence for practice and policy-making, as well as to identify gaps in the research. Systematic reviews may also include a meta-analysis, a more quantitative process of synthesizing and visualizing data retrieved from various studies.
Systematic reviews are much more time-intensive than traditional literature reviews and usually require a multi-person research team. Before embarking on a systematic review, it's important to determine whether the body of literature warrants one and to clearly identify your reasons for conducting a systematic review.
Examples of published systematic reviews:
Gay, C., Chaubaud, A., Guilley, E., & Coudere, E. (2016). Educating patients about the benefits of physical activity and exercise for their hip and knee osteoarthritis: Systematic literature review. Annals of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine, 59(3), 174-183. doi:10.1016/j.rehab.2016.02.005
Hundt, N., Barrera, T., Robinson, A., & Cully, J. (2014). A systematic review of cognitive behavioral therapy for depression in veterans. Military Medicine, 179(9), 942-9. doi:10.7205/MILMED-D-14-00128
Vandepitte, S., Van Den Noortgate, N., Putman, K., Verhaeghe, S., Verdonck, C., & Annemans, L. (2016). Effectiveness of respite care in supporting informal caregivers of persons with dementia: A systematic review. International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 31(12), 1277-1288. doi:10.1002/gps.4504
There are a number of reporting standards for systematic reviews. These can serve as guidelines for protocol and manuscript preparation and journals may require that these standards are followed for systematic reviews.
The PRISMA flow diagram depicts the flow of information through the different phases of a systematic review. It maps out the number of records identified, included and excluded, and the reasons for exclusions. Most systematic reviews include a PRISMA flow diagram to track the search, screening and selection process. See below for resources to help you generate your own PRISMA flow diagram.