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Systematic Reviews

A guide to conducting systematic reviews at the University of the Sunshine Coast

A Quick Start to the SR process

Is this your first systematic reviewing assignment? If so, follow these steps in order to start to make sense of your task.

1. Watch this video (3 min.) first to get an idea of what the SR process is about : Conducting a Systematic Literature Review

2. If you are using Endnote to manage your references, make sure you have a reasonable mastery of the software by carefully following our MS Sway Endnote tutorial. This can also be found in our full Endnote Library guide.

3. Be very clear about which type of SR you have to do. There are many types, but for USC research students the most common types by far are the Scoping Review,  and in Nursing, the Integrative review. 

4. Familiarize yourself  with PRISMA standards. Almost all USC SRs follow PRISMA guidelines.

5. Find several examples of published reviews in a topic area like yours. Do a simple Google Scholar search following this pattern: Topic AND "scoping review" . E.g.: Nurse* AND burnout AND "scoping review" . Note: the aim of this is just to give you several EXEMPLAR published reviews. Look at them carefully to see the sections of  the paper, what they contain and how each section was presented. Look at at least 3 different papers to get an idea of differences in approach. Some aspects of a review are flexible or optional while others are essential.

6. Formulate a research question or statement in one sentence. Your sentence should be clear, concise and unambiguous.

7. Clearly define inclusion/exclusion criteria - aspects of the topic that your are/are not interested in examining

8. Develop a search strategy for your topic using PICO or PCC. The general principles of effective searching are always the same.

9. Test your search strategy in the Scopus database (it's the biggest, most comprehensive scholarly database, easy to use, and works best with the Endnote program). Refine your search until you are happy with the results; when a large proportion (60-80%??) look relevant. Keep records of your strategies. You need to state your search strategy in your paper's Methods section or in an appendix.

10. When you have a relevant set of search results, you can export them to Endnote or other referencing tool. Repeat your search in other suitable databases. (This will vary according to your topic, your aims, and the type of SR).

11. Record how many records you retrieve from each database. You will need this for your PRISMA flow diagram. Look at your examples publications retrieved in Step 5 to see how the Flow Diagram is used in a published paper. Note that the diagram format is not fixed and can be adjusted to your needs and preferences. This diagram often has a box to record the number of all the "random" references that were not found via your recorded searches. These can be articles you already had, or were given, but also those found by using the advanced citation and related reference functions available in Scopus and some other databases.

12. Remove duplicates. If using Endnote, there is a Find duplicates function.

13. Examine your articles for eligibility according to your stated aims and inclusion/exclusion criteria with a  title and/or abstract scan. Record numbers at each step for your PRISMA diagram.

14. Retrieve full-text articles and do final eligibility and relevance checks to determine your final set for analysis.

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You are now ready to move to the next phase of the job: data extraction , analysis and evaluation of each of your selected articles.

This is often summarized in a table and forms the basis of your final Discussion and Conclusions.

Refer to your example papers to see how it all flows together  across a complete review. This article illustrates most (not all) of the principles described above:

Tricco, A. C., Lillie, E., Zarin, W., O'Brien, K., Colquhoun, H., Kastner, M., . . . Straus, S. E. (2016). A scoping review on the conduct and reporting of scoping reviews. BMC Medical Research Methodology16, 15. doi:10.1186/s12874-016-0116-4

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The best detailed guide to all aspects of the SR process is: 
Aromataris E., & Munn, Z. (Eds).2020. JBI Manual for Evidence Synthesishttps://doi.org/10.46658/JBIMES-20-01

In particular, Chapter 11 on Scoping Reviews is highly recommended: 
Peters, M.D.J., Godfrey, C., McInerney, P., Munn, Z., Tricco, A.C. & Khalil, H. 2020. Chapter 11: Scoping Reviews. In: E. Aromataris & Z. Munn (Eds). JBI Manual for Evidence Synthesis. https://doi.org/10.46658/JBIMES-20-12

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