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Hardin Library for the Health Sciences

Systematic Reviews: Planning

This guide provides resources for finding and writing systematic reviews.

Planning Overview

Assembling a team with the necessary expertise, time, and ability to work well with other team members is essential. Preparing a detailed plan, or protocol, is an important step in initiating a systematic review.

Timeline for a Systematic Review

Month Activity
1-2 preparation of protocol
3-8 searches for published and unpublished studies

pilot test of eligibility studies

3-8 inclusion assessments
3 pilot test of risk of bias assessment
3-10 validity assessments
3 pilot test of data collection
3-10 data collection
3-10 data entry
5-11 follow up of missing information
8-10 analysis
1-11 preparation of review report
12- keeping the review up-to-date

Source: Higgins JPT, Green S (editors). Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions Version 5.1.0 [updated March 2011]. The Cochrane Collaboration, 2011. Available from


Time Requirement Study

A study which measured time requirements for systematic reviews not published with Cochrane found that the average time from start to finish is 1 year. The study includes analysis of major review tasks. For more information, view the following article:

Borah R, Brown AW, Capers PL, Kaiser KA. Analysis of the time and workers needed to conduct systematic reviews of medical interventions using data from the PROSPERO registry. BMJ open. 2017;7(2):e012545.

Using PICO to Frame the Research Question

PICO is a mnemonic used to structure a clinical or research question.

For therapy/intervention questions: P- Patient/Problem/Population   I- Intervention   C- Comparison   O- Outcome

For diagnosis questions: P- Patient    I- Test    C - Standard    O- Outcome

For prognosis questions: P- Patient    F- Factors    O- Outcome


Locating Published Systematic Reviews

Finding published systematic reviews on a related topic can help with identifying databases and resources to include, as well as search terms. The databases listed below are suggested for this purpose.