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Systematic Reviews: Writing


pencil, sharpener, and notebook                                 Photo by Angelina Litvin                                                                                                          

Writing the review

what to include

According to Finding What Works in Health Care, your review should include the following sections:



Executive Summary

Lay summary





Funding Sources/Any Conflicts of Interest

See chapter 5 for more detail. You should also "publish the final report in a manner that ensures free public access" (Eden et al., 2011, p. 217).

For more help writing:

The Joanna Briggs Institute has an excellent guide that will help in writing the review.

Cochrane's handbook is another good reference.

Using PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses) will also help in writing the review.

You can use this tool from Theta Collaborative to create a PRISMA flow chart of your study; this guide from Glasgow Caledonian University has more information.

Summary of Findings

summary of findings

Cochrane provides detailed information on what to put in a Summary of Findings table, as well as how to create one.

You can use the free software from GRADEPro to create Summary of Findings tables. More info on GRADEPro can be found through Cochrane.

Librarian assistance

Librarian Collaboration

The Institute of Medicine recommends that systematic review teams “work with a librarian or other information specialist trained in performing systematic reviews to plan the search strategy.” (Standard 3.1.1

Selected Gumberg librarians are expert searchers with advanced training on how to conduct comprehensive literature searches for systematic reviews. By meeting with the librarians during the earliest stages of planning, they can help you develop and conduct the complex literature searches required for systematic reviews.

Some specific ways that the librarians can help you include:

  • Determining if a systematic review has already been done on your proposed topic
  • Recommending specific databases and other information sources.
  • Collaborating with you to translate your research question into reproducible search strategies for relevant databases.
  • Conducting the literature searches.
  • Delivering search results in formats that can work with citation management tools and other systematic review software.
  • Writing the search methodology section of the review
  • Maintaining records of search steps and results and update searches as needed.

If you would like a librarian to participate in your systematic review, please complete this form.

Qualitative Synthesis

qualitative analysis

Finding What Works in Health Care (p. 176) details the best practices for performing a qualitative analysis:

-"Describe the clinical and methodological characteristics of the included studies"

-"Describe the strengths and limitations of individual studies and patterns across studies"

-" flaws in the design or execution of the study...could bias the results"

-"Describe the relationships between the characteristics of the individual studies and their reported findings and patterns across studies"

-"Discuss the relevance of individual studies to the populations, comparisons, cointerventions, settings, and outcomes or measures of interest"

(Eden et al., 2011, p. 176)


meta analysis

If you plan to do a meta-analysis, it is best to follow the standards set forth in Finding What Works in Health Care (see chapter 4):

-"Use expert methodologists to develop, execute, and peer review the meta-analyses."

-"Address heterogeneity among study effects"

-"Accompany all estimates with measures of statistical uncertainty"

-"Assess the sensitivity of conclusions to changes in the protocol, assumptions, and study selection" (Eden et al., 2011, p. 187)

There is also a thorough review of software available for meta-analysis in Appendix B of Systematic Reviews in Health Care, which is available at Gumberg in print and electronically.