Skip to Main Content

Systematic Reviews & Evidence Synthesis Methods

A detailed, step-by-step guide to the first several stages of an evidence synthesis review.

Email this link:

Requirements for the Systematic Review Process

Systematic reviews are a huge endeavor, so here are a few requirements if you are thinking of employing this methodology:

  • 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 are preferred.
    • *An exception to this rule is an "empty review," which retrieves zero studies that meet the inclusion criteria. Empty reviews are relatively uncommon, but may be used to demonstrate a need for future research in an area. However, an empty review may instead indicate that the research question was defined too narrowly. 

Why do a systematic review? A well done systematic review is a major contribution to the literature. But 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 good place to start is with a consultation with a librarian. Visit the "Schedule a Consultation" page to learn why.