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Systematic Reviews

Stages of a systematic review

These are the general stages that you would undertake during a systematic review - a systematic literature review may not undertake all these stages.

  1. Scoping searches, identify review questions, write the protocol
  2. Literature searching
  3. Screening titles and abstracts
  4. Obtaining papers
  5. Selecting full-text papers
  6. Quality assessment
  7. Data extraction
  8. Analysis and synthesis
  9. Writing up and editing

Timescale of a systematic review

Planning and conducting a systematic review can be a considerably time intensive research project.

How long the overall review will take depends on the scope of the review, size and availability of the review team.

A well-designed systematic review may take a year or more to complete.

The Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions gives the following table indicating the estimated time for each element of a systematic review.

Month Activity
1 - 2 Preparation of protocol
3 - 8 Searches for published and unpublished studies
2 - 3 Pilot test of eligibility criteria
3 - 8 Inclusion assessments
3 Pilot test '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