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Hardin Library for the Health Sciences

Systematic Literature Reviews: Getting Started

This guide provides resources for finding and writing systematic reviews.

Librarian Assistance

Projects completed with librarian support have been associated with higher quality reporting of search strategy methods. For more reading, view the following article: Rethlefsen ML, Farrell AM, Osterhaus Trzasko LC, Brigham TJ. Librarian co-authors correlated with higher quality reported search strategies in general internal medicine systematic reviews. Journal of clinical epidemiology. 2015;68(6):617-26.

Hardin librarians, who have specialized training preparing them for work on systematic literature review projects, are available to provide assistance to University of Iowa faculty, staff, and students. To get started, please complete the below request form or contact your subject librarian with questions. 

Hardin Library Resources

Hardin Librarians teach two workshops related to systematic reviews, detailed below, as well as many workshops related to database searching and managing records. Please view the HOW workshop page for additional details and to register.

Nuts and Bolts: This class provides a framework for developing a literature search for a systematic review. Topics include the following: standards and criteria to consider, establishing a plan, registering a protocol, developing a research question, determining where to search, identifying search terms, reporting search strategies, and managing references.

Literature Searching for Systematic Reviews: This class will focuses on tips and techniques for carrying out a successful literature search in support of a systematic review. Topics include the following: techniques for developing search strategies, deciding which databases to search, and developing a plan for searching grey literature. There will also be discussion on selecting journals for hand searching, and documenting search strategies.


Resources for Learning about Searching

What is a Systematic Review?

Systematic Review: Aims to collect, appraise, and synthesize all empirical evidence related to a specific question, following specific criteria to ensure comprehensiveness and to minimize bias.

Meta-Analysis: Statistical analysis of two or more separate studies, generally performed to increase power and precision and to determine answers to questions not posed in the original studies. All meta-analyses should include a systematic search, but not all systematic reviews will include a meta-analysis.

Above definitions are from the Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions

What is a Narrative Review?

An exploration and summary of literature to provide an overview of a topic. With clinical topics, it may be called a clinical review. Search methods are not systematic, comprehensiveness varies, and a protocol is generally not used.

Other Types of Literature Reviews

Below are several other types of reviews that may utilize methodologies similar to systematic reviews.

Scoping Review: Aims to identify key concepts with broad approach to scope or map a topic, often guided by multiple research questions. The search method is typically systematic, but quality assessment of included studies may not be conducted. Read more about methodology in the following article: Peters MDJ, Godfrey CM. Guidance for conducting systematic scoping reviews. International Journal of Evidence-Based Healthcare. 2015;13(3):141-6.

Integrative Review: Aims to summarize previous research, either empirical or theoretical, in order to better understand a concept or phenomenon. A comprehensive approach to searching is common. Integrative reviews are most common for nursing and social sciences disciplines.  Read more about methodology in the following article: Whittemore R, Knafl K. The integrative review: updated methodology. Journal of Advanced Nursing. 2005;52(5):546-53.

Umbrella Review: Aims to compile multiple systematic reviews on a broad topic to summarize the evidence. Read more about methodology in the following article: Aromataris E, Fernandez R, Godfrey CM, Holly C, Khalil H, Tungpunkom P. Summarizing systematic reviews: Methodological development, conduct and reporting of an umbrella review approach. Int J Evid Based Healthc. 2015;13(3):132-140.

Meta-Synthesis (Qualitative Systematic Review): Aims to integrate the findings of qualitative studies and looks for themes across the studies: Mohammed MA, Moles RJ, Chen TF. Meta-synthesis of qualitative research: the challenges and opportunities. International journal of clinical pharmacy. 2016;38(3):695-704. 

For additional information on other review types, refer to the following articles