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Systematic Review Program: Getting Started

Thinking of doing a systematic review?

What is a systematic review?

"A scientific investigation that focuses on a specific question and that uses explicit, planned scientific methods to identify, select, assess, and summarize the findings of similar but separate studies. It may or may not include a quantitative synthesis of the results from separate studies (meta-analysis) depending on the available data." IOM p 1.

What do systematic reviews accomplish?

"Well-conducted systematic reviews systematically identify, select, assess, and synthesize the relevant body of research, and will help make clear what is known and not known about the potential benefits and harms of alternative drugs, devices, and other healthcare services. Thus, systematic reviews of comparative effectiveness research (CER) can be essential for clinicians who strive to integrate research findings into their daily practices, for patients to make well-informed choices about their own care, for professional medical societies and other organizations that develop clinical practice guidelines (CPGs), and for payers and policy makers.SRs can also inform medical coverage decisions and be used to set agendas and funding for primary research by highlighting gaps in evidence."  IOM p. 17.

What is required? See Methodology & Reporting

Is this the best review method for my study?  See Other Review Types

What other details do I need to think about? Please read our guide 

  Working with the HSLS Systematic Review Program 

How will readers evaluate the credibility of your systematic review? 

Murad M, Montori VM, Ioannidis JA, et al. How to read a systematic review and meta-analysis and apply the results to patient care: users Guides to the Medical literature. JAMA 2014;312(2):171-179. 


Need guidance?

Finding What Works in Health Care: Standards for Systematic Reviews (full report). Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, The National Academy Press. 

"These standards address the entire systematic review process, from locating, screening, and selecting studies for the review, to synthesizing the findings (including meta-analysis) and assessing the overall quality of the body of evidence, to producing the final review report.

These standards are for systematic reviews of comparative effectiveness research of therapeutic medical or surgical interventions."

For additional information on standards see Methodology & Reporting

Book cover reprinted with permission from Finding What Works in Health Care: Standards for Systematic Reviews,  2011  by the National Academy of Sciences, Courtesy of the National Academies Press, Washington, D.C

A systematic review primer

Umscheid CA. A Primer on Performing Systematic Reviews and Meta-analyses. Clin Infect Dis. 2013 Sep;57(5):725-34. doi: 10.1093/cid/cit333. Epub 2013 May 22.

" Targeted to beginners....... this primer (1) highlights the differences between review types; (2) outlines the major steps in performing a systematic review; and (3) offers a set of resources to help authors perform and report valid and actionable systematic reviews."

How long does it take to complete a systematic review?

Planning and conducting a systematic review is a time intensive research project.  Time to completion will vary depending on the scope of the review and the 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  provides the following table showing estimated time for each task.

Timeline for Cochrane Review

Table used with permission. Green S, Higgins JPT (editors). Chapter 2: Preparing a Cochrane review. In: Higgins JPT, Green S (editors). Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions Version 5.1.0 (updated March 2011). The Cochrane Collaboration, 2011. Available from

Request systematic review help

To request a systematic review consultation:

What consultation services can be provided? see HSLS Support

Who's eligible?

  • faculty, staff and students in the Schools of the Health Sciences, University of Pittsburgh
  • UPMC Residents and Fellows
  • UPMC physicians with University of Pittsburgh faculty appointments

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