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Stony Brook University

How to Conduct a Systematic Review

This guide covers all of the information you need to know in order to prepare for and conduct a systematic review.

How to Avoid a Data Management Nightmare

  • Back up your work
  • Create a strategy for the team's workflow & assign each person a specific task
  • Have a consistent naming convention for files so the files are easily retreivable

Systematic Review Software

  • Covidence- subscription based. Recommended by Cochrane. Covidence can assist with the article review process.
  • EndNote- a citation management program designed to make it easier to save and organize references and to create and format bibliographies automatically. References may also be entered manually in EndNote.
  • COLANDR- free, but requires a login. Includes tools for project management.
  • GRADEPRO - Create a free account. This is synergistic with RevMan and will create Summary of Findings tables for your review, including GRADE evidence evaluation of studies. See also http://tech.cochrane.org/gradepro for more information.
  • Rayyan- free and available as a mobile app. Rayyan can assist with the article review process.
  • RevMan (Review Manager)- from the Cochrane Collaboration - A very useful program designed for Cochrane authors to write their systematic reviews.It is free for download and a web version may soon be available. When installing, unless you're actually doing a Cochrane review, make sure to select "Non-Cochrane" as the type of review. This provides you with a template for writing the review, extracting data, judging bias, creating tables, and running some basic statistics. 
  • Systematic Review Data Repository (SRDR)- free, but requires a login
  • Zotero- A free, easy-to-use tool to help you collect, organize, cite, and share research. Requires a login. 

Reviewing & Weeding Articles

At least 2 independent reviewers must read and separately make a decision on each abstract. In some cases, if a larger team is available, the results can be divided up between pairs of reviewers. Using a software/website specific for this purpose is helpful. Some are freely available online, like Rayyan. Others are paid software, like Covidence. Covidence does give each individual one free review, so researchers should consider this option.

Each reviewer must individually, without influence of another, decide if each abstract should be included (Yes), excluded (NO), or needs further examination of full-text or discussion (Maybe).

The decisions of the paired reviewers should be compared when completed.

  • All double "No" articles are excluded at this point. (COUNT THESE! If possible, record the reasons for exclusions, i.e., absent outcomes, wrong population, etc.)
  • All double "Yes" articles are put aside in an inclusion category (COUNT THESE!)
  • All double "Maybe" articles are carried through to the full-text round.
  • All disagreements are discussion and decisions made to place the articles in one of the preceeding three categories.
  • Inter-rater reliability should be recorded.