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Doing a systematic review

Guidance on the steps involved in doing a systematic review, and ways in which the Library can help.

What to include in your write up

In your methods section you should include details of where you searched and the search words used (more detail can be included in an Appendix). As well as the inclusion and exclusion criteria used to screen and select studies.

In the results section you would cover the results of your searching, screening and selection by including a PRISMA diagram (see below).

In the discussion section you should include a table which extracts the key characteristics and outcomes from each selected study. You can then discuss the overall findings in the text.

Doing a narrative synthesis

A narrative synthesis uses a textual approach to analyse the relationships within and between studies and gives an overall assessment of the robustness of the evidence for the effectiveness of a specific intervention.

Doing a meta-analysis

A meta-analysis is the statistical combination of results from two or more separate studies. This gives an overall statistic (together with its confidence interval) that summarizes the effectiveness of an experimental intervention compared with a comparator intervention.

Using the PRISMA checklist and flow diagram to report your review

PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses) provides a structured approach to reporting systematic reviews (and meta-analyses). There is a checklist outlining the sections to include in your report, and a flow diagram to record the number of records retained at each step in the review process.

PRISMA flow diagram templates

A new version of the PRISMA guidelines and flow diagram was published in 2020. There are now four templates to choose from:

  • Template 1 - use this if you are only searching on databases and not looking at citations or searching for grey literature (most suitable for UG and Masters' project). See example on the right.
  • Template 2 - use this if you are doing a more extensive review including citation searching, websites and grey literature (most suitable for research students and staff).
  • Templates 3 and 4 for are for updated systematic reviews (with the same coverage distinction).
More information

See the following site for more information about PRISMA including the checklist: