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Systematic Reviews

A guide for researchers beginning a medical systematic review or meta-analysis.

Welcome to Systematic Reviews

"A systematic review attempts to collate all empirical evidence that fits pre-specified eligibility criteria in order to answer a specific research question.  It  uses explicit, systematic methods that are selected with a view to minimizing bias, thus providing more reliable findings from which conclusions can be drawn and decisions made. The key characteristics of a systematic review are:

  • a clearly stated set of objectives with pre-defined eligibility criteria for studies;
  • an explicit, reproducible methodology;
  • a systematic search that attempts to identify all studies that would meet the eligibility criteria;
  • an assessment of the validity of the findings of the included studies, for example through the assessment of risk of bias; and
  • a systematic presentation, and synthesis, of the characteristics and findings of the included studies.

Many systematic reviews contain meta-analyses. Meta-analysis is the use of statistical methods to summarize the results of independent studies (Glass 1976). By combining information from all relevant studies, meta-analyses can provide more precise estimates of the effects of health care than those derived from the individual studies included within a review . They also facilitate investigations of the consistency of evidence across studies, and the exploration of differences across studies."
(Sally Green, Julian PT Higgins, Philip Alderson, Mike Clarke, Cynthia D Mulrow and Andrew D Oxman. (2011) "1.2.2 What is a Systematic Review?" Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions. Version 5.1.0. Accessed from:

Systematic reviews are gaining in popularity at medical research institutions across the US.  Mulford librarians have received advanced training to support systematic review creation and are available for collaboration and consultation and Mulford Library offers several resources and services to support systematic review research. All guidelines governing the creation of systematic reviews recommend the involvement of a librarian or information professional on your systematic review team.  Due to database licensing agreements, our journal subscriptions, and constraints on the time our of faculty librarians, we are only able to collaborate with researches affiliated with the University of Toledo or the Medical Center on systematic review creation.  As intellectual contributors to the research and any resulting manuscript, librarian systematic review team members are typically involved as co-authors on the published version of the review.

This guide provides a step-by-step approach to conducting a systematic review.  Each page shows which team members are involved at each step and suggests tools and resources that lead to a successful systematic review publication.

What Are Systematic Reviews?

Systematic Reviews vs. Other Types of Reviews

As you can see, a systematic review involves a rigorous and sometimes time-intensive approach to thoroughly locate, identify, extract, and analyze all of the available evidence to answer a specific clinical question.  It may be that another type of literature review is a more appropriate publication type depending on your area of research, the amount of evidence, and the time and other support that you have.  The libguide below and the article referenced here may provide more appropriate types of publishable literature reviews.  In any case, the Mulford Health Science Librarians will be glad to assist you in developing and refining your search strategies.