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Stony Brook University

Systematic Reviews

A guide to conducting systematic reviews.

What is a systematic review?

Systematic Review

A systematic review attempts to collect and analyze all evidence that answers a specific question.  The question must be clearly defined and have inclusion and exclusion criteria. A broad and thorough search of the literature is performed and a critical analysis of the search results is reported and ultimately provides a current evidence-based answer  to the specific question.

Why Do a Systematic Review?

  • Save clinicians and researchers valuable time
  • Take a large mass of literature and make concise sense of it
  • Objectively evaluate the quality of evidence on a topic
  • Resolve or highlight contradictions in the literature
  • Guide clinical decisions
  • Form the basis for practice guidelines and health care policy
  • Identify the need for additional research
  • Prevent unnecessary studies from being carried out

Other Types of Reviews

There are a wide variety of different types of reviews. For an excellent summary of 14 review types, see Grant MJ, Booth A. A typology of reviews: an analysis of 14 review types and associated methodologies. Health Info Libr J. 2009 Jun;26(2):91-108. PMID: 19490148.

Here are some common categories:

Narrative reviews: Broad perspective on topic, no specified search strategy, significant bias issues, may not evaluate quality of evidence

Systematic reviews: Comprehensive with minimized bias, based on specific question and criteria with a pre-planned protocol, evaluates quality of evidence

  • Based on randomized controlled clinical trials (RCTs) – Best evidence
  • Based on other types of clinical studies or literature – Best available evidence
  • Meta-analysis – A quantitative systematic review that applies statistical analysis

Scoping Reviews: An overview of the literature on a broader topic; often done to identify whether a systematic review is feasible or to identify the overall state of the literature. For detailed information on how to do a Scoping Review, check out the Joanna Briggs Institute Guidelines.

Request Librarian Assistance

Health Science Librarians are available to assist you with your systematic review.

The Health Sciences Library offers support for Stony Brook researchers conducting systematic reviews and meta-analyses. Librarians have specialized expertise in literature searching, controlled vocabularies, search strategy construction, and resource utilization and selection that can be highly valuable in the SR research process. Our services range from basic training and consultation to higher levels of involvement for which author credit is required, see list below.


Standard Support - email for a consultation appointment 

  • Advice on research question formulation 
  • Guidance on principles of Systematic Review 
  • Advice on database selection based on research topic 
  • Instruction on database platforms
  • Instruction on advanced search techniques 
  • Training on the use of citation management tools such as Endnote, Rayyan, Covidence.  

Author Credit Required for more in-depth involvement - email to establish initial meeting 

  • Developing and documenting search protocol
  • Creation of search strategies including the recommendation of controlled vocabulary terms
  • Translation of completed search strategies into multiple databases 
  • Running the search protocol and documenting results 
  • Downloading and de-duplicating the results, maintaining records in citation management software 
  • Participation in screening of results or establishing screening tool criteria
  • Writing Search methods section of manuscript including PRISMA flow chart

Please contact us by email ( to discuss your SR topic, scope, timeline, and assistance needs.