This page is designed to clarify the systematic review process.
Many potential systematic review authors approach us. Within minutes of discussion we realize these authors do not fully understand what a systematic review is or how much work it takes to produce one. A common scenario we see: Research supervisors or mentors send potential authors (usually students, residents or fellows) to the library with the instruction to get help writing a systematic review.
Systematic reviews require time. 12-24 months is usual from conception to submission.
Systematic reviews require a team. Four (4) or more team members are recommended. A principal investigator, a second investigator, a librarian, and someone well-versed in statistics forms the basic team. Ideally the team might have another investigator and someone to coordinate all the moving pieces. Smaller teams are possible, three is the realistic minimum. Two investigators each wearing more than one hat and one librarian. Sometimes an investigator has the time and energy to coordinate. Occasionally one of the investigators is also a statistical guru.
Systematic reviews require enough data to make conclusions. Very new or very specific topics often do not have enough primary research data upon which to base useful conclusions. For those of you who have read Cochrane Reviews, you will recognize the all too common bottom line of not enough quality data to make a conclusion and more research is needed. Given the time and effort needed to create a systematic review, research questions with the potential to have significant impact on health care quality or cost are preferred.
If so, how do you start with the library? You will need to meet with a librarian for a consultation. That initial consultation will take 60-90 minutes. We would like you to have done some preparation before the meeting. Please complete the survey, as we will use that during the consultation. Your answers will help us determine the viability of your potential systematic review.
Most Systematic Review authorities recommend formally involving a librarian in the process from the outset. Why? Information literacy research repeatedly shows that information seekers almost universally over-estimate their ability to find the information they need. Health care professionals and researchers are no different. For example, doctors know medicine and particularly their special areas of interest. They may not have the training to be expert searchers.
Should the librarian be listed as a coauthor on the systematic review?
There are two main reasons for coauthorship.
1. A librarian may spend 60-100 hours developing a strategy and conducting the literature searches for a systematic review. Each element of the search is tested extensively in an enormously repetitive process of trial and error. Additional time is spent identifying the best sources in which to search. Finding useful material not included in traditional article databases (grey literature) is also very time consuming.
2. We may also provide input on question formulation, PICO, search term identification, methods section write-up. Some librarians are involved in initial screening of articles as well. Typically, librarians help with getting search results into reference managers and may help with identification and troubleshooting systematic review software as well.
Why do a systematic review? A well done systematic review is a major contribution to the literature.
Why not? The requirements in time and effort are massive. Cochrane estimates one year from conception to completion. This does not including time for review, revision and publication. You need to assemble a team and they need to commit for the duration. A smaller team is problematic. We have three librarians who can assist with SRs.
With that introduction, we would like to have you work through the following questions before the first meeting with one of us.