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Systematic Reviews: Home

An introduction to systematic reviews and the steps involved in undertaking a systematic review

Otago University Library support for systematic reviews


It is important for staff and students undertaking a systematic review to appreciate that undertaking any type of systematic review is a very time-consuming process.

It takes considerable time to develop search strategies across different databases. Researchers need to factor this in when planning a systematic review.

Library staff will only support systematic reviews being undertaken by academic staff, or postgraduate students and summer students under the supervision of academic staff, where the lead researchers are from the University of Otago.

It is recommended that researchers get in touch with library staff as soon as possible, to discuss whether there is the capacity to support their systematic review. Library staff will discuss with postgraduate students and their supervisor/s the degree of librarian involvement. 

What is a Systematic Review?

1. A systematic review is an academic research paper that uses a method called ‘evidence synthesis’, which can include meta-analysis, to look for answers to a pre-defined question. The purpose of a systematic review is to sum up the best available research on that specific question. Reviews can also show when there has not been enough research carried out, and where more research is needed. (Campbell Collaboration

2.  A systematic review [in health] is a summary of research that addresses a focused clinical question in a systematic, reproducible manner (Guyatt G, Rennie D, Meade M, Cook D. Users' guides to the medical literature: essentials of evidence-based clinical practice. 3rd ed. 2015)

3. An SR [in health] is a summary of the clinical literature that uses explicit methods to systematically search, critically appraise, and synthesize the evidence base on a specific issue. (Straus SE. Evidence-based medicine : how to practice and teach EBM. 5th ed. 2019.)

4. A systematic review is a method of answering a question by finding, appraising and synthesising evidence in a systematic and unbiased way. (University of Sydney Library.

5. A systematic review is a high-level overview of primary research on a particular research question that tries to identify, select, synthesize and appraise all high quality research evidence relevant to that question in order to answer it. Systematic review is an approach used in health, education and social policy (as part of evidence based policy or practice). It's much more than a 'literature review' - it follows a strict methodology which means it's 'transparent, rigorous and replicable'. (Bodleian Library, University of Oxford. )

6. Systematic reviews aim to find as much as possible of the research relevant to the particular research questions, and use explicit methods to identify what can reliably be said on the basis of these studies. Methods should not only be explicit but systematic with the aim of producing varied and reliable results. (EPPI-Centre, University College London.

Major organisations in this area are the Cochrane Collaboration (health) and the Campbell Collaboration (education, social sciences).

Introductory articles:


This guide has been modified, with permission, from a guide at the the University of Oxford (UK), developed by Juliet Ralph. See the original Systematic Reviews guide.

Some of the content and examples have been taken from the Australian EBP Librarians Institute, held in Auckland in November 2019.

Supporting statement for library staff

Useful organisations

Further reading - Journal articles