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BIOL 332L - Human Anatomy and Physiology (Lab)

What is a Systematic Review?

A systematic review is a review of a clearly formulated question that uses systematic and reproducible methods to identify, select and critically appraise all relevant research, and to collect and analyse data from the studies that are included in the review.  A systematic review should:

  • Answers a focused research question
  • Employ a comprehensive, reproducible search strategy
  • Identify ALL relevant studies (both published and unpublished)                                                         
  • Assess all results for inclusion/exclusion, and for quality
  • Present an unbiased, balanced summary of findings.  To avoid bias it is usually run by at least two researchers.
  • Large studies can take months or even years to complete


A systematic review can be either quantitative or qualitative:

  • quantitative systematic review will include studies that have numerical data.
  • qualitative systematic review derives data from observation, interviews, or verbal interactions and focuses on the meanings and interpretations of the participants.

Systematic Review vs. Literature Review

  Systematic Review Literature Review
Question Focused on a single question Not necessarily focused on a single question, but may describe an overview

Includes a peer review protocol or plan No protocol is included
Background Provides summaries of the available literature on a topic Provides summaries of the available literature on a topic
Objectives Clear objectives are identified Objectives may or may not be identified
Inclusion/Exclusion Criteria Criteria is stated before review is conducted Criteria is not specified
Search Strategy Comprehensive search conducted in a systematic way Strategy not explicitly stated
Process of Selecting Articles Process usually clear and explicit Not described in a literature review
Process of Evaluating Articles Comprehensive evaluation of study quality Evaluation of study quality may or may not be included
Results and Data Synthesis Clear summaries based on high quality evidence Summary based on studies where the quality of the articles may not be specified. May also be influenced by the reviewer's theories, needs and beliefs
Discussion Written by an expert or group of experts with a detailed and well grounded knowledge of the issues Written by an expert or group of experts with a well grounded knowledge of the issues


Additional Resources

Before you get started here are a few resources to help you with your systematic review: