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Systematic Review Program: Data Management


Developing a  protocol  allows you to begin thinking about the data management requirements of your project, which include extensive documentation of the process that produces the final sample of studies used in the review.

We  encourage the creation of a "lab notebook" and update it on a regular basis as the systematic review proceeds. The purpose of such a notebook (which can be print or electronic) is to keep track of progress on the project and to document important decisions and changes in the project as it proceeds. These documented details can be valuable in the event of staffing changes or lapses in the project timeline, and may be particularly helpful in development of a final manuscript.

Managing and screening citations

Access to DistillerSR, a Web-based systematic review software tool, is available to you if a HSLS librarian is on your systematic review team. To learn more see the  “HSLS DistillerSR User FAQ” .

There is no "one size fits all" system for tracking the flow of database citations or records and articles through the screening process - the best option for you will depend upon the amount of literature retrieved, the number of personnel on your project, and your comfort/familiarity with available software.


See the following articles for additional suggestions and guidance:

  • Elamin MB, Flynn DN, Bassler D, Briel M, Alonso-Coello P, Karanicolas PJ, Guyatt GH, Malaga G, Furukawa TA, Kunz R, Schünemann H, Murad MH, Barbui C, Cipriani A, Montori VM. Choice of data extraction tools for systematic reviews depends on resources and review complexity. J Clin Epidemiol. 2009 May;62(5):506-10
  • Brown SA, Martin EE, Garcia TJ, Winter MA, García AA, Brown A, Cuevas HE, Sumlin LL. Managing complex research datasets using electronic tools: a meta-analysis exemplar. Comput Inform Nurs. 2013 Jun;31(6):257-65.

Documenting the literature search

PRISMA recommends description of  all information sources in the search (e.g., databases with dates of coverage, contact with study authors to identify additional studies or data) and date last searched along with the full electronic search strategy for at least one major database, including any limits used, such that it could be repeated.

Report at a Glance: Standards for Systematic Reviews (brief listrecommends the following:

  • Provide a line-by-line description of the search strategy, including the date of every search for each database, web browser, etc. 3.4.1
  • Document the disposition of each report identified including reasons for their exclusion if appropriate. 3.4.2

See Methodology and Reporting

Prisma Flow Diagram


The PRISMA Flow Diagram depicts the flow of information through the different phases of a systematic review. It maps out the number of records identified, included and excluded, and the reasons for exclusions.



Flow Diagram IN: Moher D, Liberati A, Tetzlaff J, Altman DG, The PRISMA Group (2009). Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses: The PRISMA Statement. PLoS Med 6(6): e1000097. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed1000097

Image used and distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License. 

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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