Systematic Review Guide

Overview / News


Welcome to UNB Libraries' (Saint John) Guide to Systematic Review.  The purpose of this guide is to help you find resources related to the systematic review process and enhance your learning.

Many research articles include literature reviews. Literature reviews provide context or justification for the authors' own work and allow the authors to come to a conclusion based on the examination of a variety of different, but related, studies. The examined studies are selected from bibliographic search results deemed by the authors to be sufficiently related to the topic. Literature reviews may lack an initial research question, rigour, and neutrality and may not be replicable. They are NOT systematic reviews.

Many systematic reviews begin with a published, peer reviewed protocol. That protocol will include: a research question, or sometimes research questions; an explicit search strategy; inclusion / exclusion criteria for acceptable review material; the appraisal strategy; and the data collection and synthesis methodology.

Systematic reviews are designed to inform practice, policy, and future research. They accomplish this by providing evidence on what works, where it works, when it works, and for whom it works, as laid out in the protocol. The bibliographic searches which inform them are organized, deliberate, transparent, rigorous, neutral, recorded and replicable. Studies are selected for inclusion by the predetermined criteria and only with the agreement of more than one reviewer. Data extraction tools are used to appraise and synthesize the evidence from the selected studies.

Systematic reviews usually take several months or more to complete and their results can be surprising. As they inform evidence based practice and health care delivery, and may alter local, regional, national and even international policies, they can have a dramatic impact on the lives of individuals and society generally. Although the process of systematic review is rooted in the health sciences, where it is most often applied, it has also been utilized in other fields as diverse as education, software engineering, criminal justice, and information science.

In addition to this guide on the systematic review process, you might also wish to explore:

UNB Libraries' Guide to Nursing & Health Sciences (Saint John)


News and Views



Dictionaries, encyclopedias, and other reference works which may be related to systematic review, can be found by checking UNB WorldCat, and the UNB Libraries' Reference Materials collection, or may be publicly accessible via the internet.


Guidelines, Handbooks, Manuals ...

Collective Resources

Guideline Matrix, National Guideline Clearinghouse, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, US, public access

AHRQ Comparative Effectiveness Reviews, 2005 forward

Methods Guide for Effectiveness and Comparative Effectiveness Reviews, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, US, public access

Comparative Effectiveness Review Summary Guides for Clinicians, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, US, public access

Standards for Developing Trustworthy Clinical Practice Guidelines, Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, public access



Developing a protocol, NCD Training Modules, CDC

ENCePP Checklist for Study Protocols, European Network of Centres for Pharmacoepidemiology and Pharmacovigilance

Three steps to writing adaptive study protocols in the early phase clinical development of new medicines, U. Lorch, M. O'Kane, J. Taubel, BMC Med Res Methodol. 2014 Jun 30;14:84. doi: 10.1186/1471-2288-14-84, public access

Study Protocols, Springer Open, public access

Study Protocol FAQ, Medicine, public access


Systematic Reviews

Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions, Cochrane Collaboration, public access

Reviewers' Manual, Joanna Briggs Institute, public access

Systematic reviews: CRD's guidance for undertaking reviews in health care, Centre for Reviews and Dissemination, University of York, public access

Standards for Systematic Reviews, Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, public access


Reporting, Appraisal Tools, Checklists ...

CASP Tools and Checklists, Critical Appraisal Skills Programme, NHS, UK, public access

Critical Appraisal Tools, Centre for Evidence Based Medicine, University of Oxford, public access

PRISMA Statement, Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses, PROSPERO, Centre for Reviews and Dissemination, University of York, public access

Trend Statement, Transparent Reporting of Evaluations with Nonrandomized Designs, CDC, public access

CONSORT Statement, Consort Transparent Reporting of Trials, public access

STROBE Statement, strengthening the reporting of observational studies in epidemiology, public access

Consolidated criteria for reporting qualitative research (COREQ): a 32-item checklist for interviews and focus groups, by Allison Tong, Peter Sainsbury, and Jonathan Craig, Int J Qual Health Care (2007) 19 (6): 349-357. doi: 10.1093/intqhc/mzm042 First published online: September 14, 2007

Squire Guidelines, Standards for Quality Improvement Reporting Excellence, public access

Spirit Statement, Standard Protocol Items: Recommendations for Interventional Trials, public access

Care Guidelines, "a framework that supports transparency and accuracy in the publication of case reports and the reporting of information from patient encounters", public access


Evidence Management Tools

Software for systematic reviewing, HLWIKI Canada, UBC

GRADE Working Group Cochrane, public access

RevMan, Cochrane, for Cochrane authors / academic use

SUMARI, JBI, registered authors

Systematic Review Data Repository, AHRQ, US, registration for comments / contributions

DistillerSR, systematic review and literature review software, Evidence Partners, commercial


Books, Studies, Reports ...

UNB WorldCat searches the WorldCat database and offers up-to-date availability information for material held by UNB Libraries. WorldCat contains more than 130,000,000 bibliographic records (including books, journals, videos, music ...) referring to the holdings of libraries world wide. WorldCat also includes selected journal articles and internet resources.

Mobile users should note that although UNB Libraries has moved to a responsive web design, mobile interfaces and apps may NOT yet provide all the functionality of other types of web-based access.

Search UNB WorldCat:     

Advanced Search | Locations Guide | Other Catalogues | Help/FAQ

Members of the UNB/STU community of users may use UNB WorldCat, to access individual electronic book / book-length titles or may choose to search one or more of our collections of electronic books and book-length materials, including:

Canadian Health Research & Public Policy Collections, désLibris eBooks

Books@Ovid, including, among others: Synthesizing Evidence from Narrative, Text and Opinion; Synthesizing Qualitative Evidence; and Synthesizing Quantitative Evidence

As well, some internet sites offer full-text, public access books and book-length works either as individual linked titles or as collections. Examples are shown below.

Individual Titles

Finding What Works in Health Care: Standards for Systematic Reviews, Institute of Medicine. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2011

Know Your Chances: Understanding Health Statistics, Steven Woloshin, Lisa M. Schwartz, and H. Gilbert Welch, University of California Press, 2008



Bookshelf, NCBI, NLM. Note that you can filter by subject such as evidence-based medicine or comparative effectiveness research

Publications by Title, Canadian Insitute for Health Information

Health and Medicine, National Academies Press


Article / Research Databases

For those interested in systematic reviews and evidence based research, there are licensed bibliographic databases, listed in Key and Additional Resources below, as well as major open access databases such as PubMed, a US government database.

These databases will be especially useful when you are beginning a research project and looking for information on a topic.

For other licensed databases, please see the Article Databases page.

Key Resources

  • Cochrane Library (Wiley)
    The Cochrane Library contains high-quality, independent evidence to inform healthcare decision-making. This database includes the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, the Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effects, the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, the Cochrane Database of Methodology Reviews, the The Cochrane Methodology Register, the Health Technology Assessment Database, and the NHS Economic Evaluation Database.
    Access to the Cochrane Library in New Brunswick is through a province-wide license made possible by a partnership between UNB, the New Brunswick Public Library Service and the eight Regional Hospital Authority libraries.
    Unlimited simultaneous users.
  • Cochrane Clinical Answers (CCAs - Wiley)
    Cochrane Clinical Answers (CCAs) provide a readable, digestible, clinically focused entry point to rigorous research from Cochrane systematic reviews. They are designed to be actionable and to inform decision making at the point of care. Each Cochrane Clinical Answer contains a clinical question, a short answer, and an opportunity to ‘drill down’ to the evidence from relevant Cochrane reviews.
    Unlimited simultaneous users.
  • Joanna Briggs Institute EBP Database
    The Joanna Briggs Institute EBP Database allows you to search simultaneously, a wide range of summarized and appraised health care evidence, including over 3,300 records across seven publication types: Evidence Based Recommended Practices, Evidence Summaries, Best Practice Information Sheets, Systematic Reviews, Consumer Information Sheets, Systematic Review Protocols, and Technical Reports. Covered subjects: Nursing care, medical care.
    Unlimited simultaneous users.
  • PsycINFO
    PsycINFO is an abstracting and indexing database of more than 2000 journals (approximately 3.3 million records) devoted to peer-reviewed literature (journals, books and dissertations) in the behavioural sciences and mental health.
    Unlimited simultaneous users.


Inside PubMed, the Clinical Queries search will display "citations for systematic reviews, meta-analyses, reviews of clinical trials, evidence-based medicine, consensus development conferences, and guidelines". However, a more comprehensive search of PubMed should be considered. PubMed provides search strategies to "create the systematic reviews subset on PubMed" and makes a filters sidebar available which allows you to limit your search to particular types of research / methodology such as randomized controlled trials. Great care should be taken if applying search filters. They can be very powerful tools. Before using such filters, ensure that you fully understand their impact on your search results and consult with an experienced reviewer and / or librarian so that needed, relevant materials are not unwittingly eliminated from your searches.

PubMed, public access

PubMed for handhelds, public access

PubMedCentral, searchable full-text periodical collection, public access

PubMedCentral Canada, public access

Europe PubMedCentral, public access


Other Databases

Clinical Trials, "registry and results database of publicly and privately supported clinical studies of human participants conducted around the world", National Institutes of Health, public access

CDC Stacks, public health publications, public access

CRD Database, Centre for Reviews and Dissemination, University of York, public access

OTSeeker, Occupational Therapy Systematic Evaluation of Evidence, public access

REHABDATA, National Rehabilitation Information Center, public access

Knowledge Network Scotland, National Health Service, public access

Journal of Medical Case Reports [Cases Database], BioMed Central, public access

Campbell Collaboration Library of Systematic Reviews, public access

Evidence for Policy and Practice Information and Co-ordinating Centre, EPPI-Centre, Social Science Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London


Periodicals Containing Protocols / Systematic Reviews

There is a wide variety of individual periodical titles available (some licensed, some public access) which contain protocols and systematic reviews. Be aware, however, that not everything called a "systematic review" in a periodical is actually a systematic review. Example of available periodicals which may be of use include:

American Journal of Nursing, licensed resource

BMC Nursing, public access

Canadian Journal of Nursing Research, licensed resource

Clinical Nursing Studies, public access

Evidence Based Nursing, licensed resource

Health Education Research, licensed resource

International Nursing Review, licensed resource

Journal of Advanced Nursing, licensed resource

Journal of Experimental Criminology, licensed resource

Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, public access

Nursing Research, licensed resource

Nursing Research and Practice, public access

PLoS Medicine, public access

Systematic Reviews, public access


Internet / Multimedia

Internet Sites


PRS Publications, Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention, Prevention Research Branch, CDC

Innovations Exchange, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, US

Evidence Aid

Systematic Reviews, Department for International Development, UK



Video Tutorials, Training: Systemative Review Data Repository, AHRQ

Cochrane Canada Live (webinars), Cochrane Canada Centre

Increasing Dietitians' Role in Knowledge Synthesis and Use: Peer Review Training Modules , Cochrane Canada Centre

The Introductory Methods, "an introduction to the purpose of systematic reviews and their basic elements", Training: Campbell Collaboration

The Advanced Methods / Applied Topics, Training: Campbell Collaboration


Citing / Writing

Citing Sources

Citations are a natural by-product of a good literature or bibliographic search -- they come from the results your search produces. They may be found, collectively, in bibliographic databases and citation indexes. They may be derived from statistical databases and other data collections. They may make reference to individual books, periodicals (journals, magazines and newspapers), working papers, and technical reports. They may be gathered from compilations such as bibliographies or appear in lists of works cited and references. Citations may also be produced in reference to material you read or heard, to images you discover, and to all kinds of electronic files which are displayed, read, played, or otherwise accessed.

To structure citations appropriately it helps to have a good guide. There are several standard guides from which you may choose. In university, choosing the "best" one will depend on the requirements of the assignment, the nature of the contents and the preferences of the individual professor. Some guides emphasize a particular discipline, some are cross-discipline and some may emphasize a particular form of material. The material listed below may help you.


Style Guides

Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, HWK-REF BF76.7 .P83 2010

APA Style Guide to Electronic References, 2012 edition, licensed resource

APA Style, American Psychological Association, public access

CIHR English Style Guide, public access

Citing Medicine: The NLM Style Guide for Authors, Editors and Publishers, NLM, public access

Recommendations for the Conduct, Reporting, Editing and Publication of Scholarly Work in Medical Journals, sometimes called Vancouver style, International Committee of Medical Journal Editors, public access

Visualizing Health, "A scientifically vetted style guide for communicating health data," University of Michigan and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, public access


Abbreviations and Acronymns

NLM Catalog: Journals referenced in the NCBI Databases, National Library of Medicine, public access

Journal Title Abbreviations, Web of Science, public access


Citation Management Software

There are several commercial and free citation managers. The "best" one may depend on your individual circumstances and preferences. Before investing a lot of time, and any money, in a manager, it might be useful to consult someone at your institution with systematic review experience.

Zotero, public access

UNB Libraries' Guide to Zotero

Mendeley, public access