General Procedures for Conducting a Systematic Review

These reviews are called “systematic” because researchers follow a protocol or plan that spells out all of the review processes. A key feature of a systematic review is to evaluate the quality of the studies included in the review. The goal is that any team, following that protocol’s “system,” would come to the same conclusions. Users can feel confident that the findings are not biased.

For example, team members decide:

  • What databases they will use to find studies,
  • What kind of studies they will include and exclude,
  • How they will make sure to include only high-quality studies,
  • How they will make sure to include studies that are relevant to the review topic,
  • What information they will collect from each study,
  • How they will keep track of that information, and
  • How they will summarize the study findings.

It is important that systematic review team members have a variety of skills:

  • Some team members will know statistics.
  • Other team members will be subject-matter experts on the topic.
  • The team should always include a librarian who can help search for articles and reports.
  • Authors send the protocol to peer reviewers who are experts in the same field as the authors and/or who have expertise in systematic review methods. Peer reviewers check over the protocol. They also give the research team feedback on drafts of the review.
  • An editor signs off on the final review before it is made public.

If you would like more information about conducting a systematic review, email Joann Starks, co-chair of the Campbell Collaboration of Systematic Reviews Disability Coordinating Group (DCG). The DCG provides resources for researchers who are developing high-quality systematic reviews of disability-related research.

Click here to return to the Overview of Systematic Reviews and Research Syntheses page.