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Systematic Reviews in the Health Sciences

A guide to systematic and other types of reviews in the health sciences. Also describes the types of support available to systematic review teams through the Health Sciences Library

Our Services

Institute of Medicine (IOM) standard (3.1.1) for systematic reviews states: work with a librarian or other information specialist trained in performing systematic reviews to plan the search strategy.

We offer a drop-in librarian consultation service at HSL every weekday from 12:30-4:30 PM. This is a good place to start with literature searching. If these times don't work for you, you can submit a request for an appointment through our Consult a Librarian form. If you are dropping in or you've booked an appointment with a librarian, please fill out a Literature Search Consultation Planning Form and bring it with you.

Our librarians can be involved in systematic reviews in the following ways:

  • As consultants - Click Consultants tab above for details.
  • As coauthors - Click Coauthors tab above for details.

These roles are based on the ICMJE recommendations for defining authors and contributors. For either of the first two roles, acknowledgment of the librarian's role may be appropriate. Because acknowledgment may imply endorsement by acknowledged individuals of a study's data and conclusions, many journals require review authors to obtain written permission to be acknowledged from all acknowledged individuals.

For examples of what a review co-authored by one of our librarians might look like, here are some examples of our work

Please note that we accommodate requests for this type of in-depth involvement based on librarian capacity at the time, and the research interests/expertise of available librarians. We are experiencing increasing demand for systematic review support, and may not be able to accommodate all requests for consulting or coauthor involvement.

 

As co-authors, we will:

  • Conduct the literature search in accordance with best practice literature search standards:
  • Provide researcher with a protocol form to fill out to begin identifying search terms and inclusion/exclusion criteria
  • Set up a meeting to discuss systematic review before undertaking
  • Where a grant is being applied for to carry out the review, be listed on grant proposals as a co-investigator or collaborator
  • Recommend and rank research databases, research and clinical trial registries, and internet search engines for their likely yield of relevant studies and documents for the research question(s). Develop search terms and search strategies tailored to the research question(s)
  • Revise the search terms and search strategies of the search in light of both search results and feedback from the principal investigator(s) / research team
  • Participate in meetings of the research team to discuss the search strategies and the implications of choosing various search strategies:
    • relative completeness of the records retrieved,
    • meeting current recognized standards and benchmarks for systematic review literature searches
  • Keep detailed records of search results and search strategies, so that these can be documented in the final report/article
  • Write up the Search Strategy portion of the Methods section of the review in compliance with best practice literature search reporting standards:
  • Review the final draft of the article for clarity and readability (as a non-content-expert reader)

 

As consultants, we do the following:

  • Provide researcher with a literature review consultation planning form to fill out to begin identifying search terms and inclusion/exclusion criteria
  • Set up a meeting to discuss systematic review before undertaking
  • Recommend and rank research databases, research and clinical trial registries, and internet search engines for their likely yield of relevant studies and documents for the research question(s).
  • Collaboratively develop search terms and search strategies tailored to the research question(s) during a meeting with researcher
  • Provide advice to the person(s) conducting the search(es)
  • Make suggestions to researcher for keeping detailed records of search results and search strategies, so that these can be documented in final review report / article

 

The reviews below all have one librarian co-author from the University of Calgary. This list is meant to give an idea of the range of topics our librarians consult on. These reviews also illustrate how a literature search process should be carried out and reported on in the final publication of the review.

Systematic review of a therapy, published in a medical journal:

Roberts DJ, Zygun DA, Grendar J, Ball CG, Robertson HL, Ouellet JF, et al. Negative-pressure wound therapy for critically ill adults with open abdominal wounds: a systematic review. The journal of trauma and acute care surgery. 2012;73(3):629-39.


A Cochrane Review:

Wong T, Stang Antonia S, Ganshorn H, Hartling L, Maconochie Ian K, Thomsen Anna M, et al. Combined and alternating paracetamol and ibuprofen therapy for febrile children. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2013; (10).


Systematic review of a nursing/patient education intervention:

Benzies KM, Magill-Evans JE, Hayden KA, Ballantyne M. Key components of early intervention programs for preterm infants and their parents: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth. 2013;13(Suppl 1):S10-S.


Systematic review of educational methods:

Artemiou E, Adams CL, Toews L, Violato C, Coe JB. Informing web-based communication curricula in veterinary education: a systematic review of web-based methods used for teaching and assessing clinical communication in medical education. Journal of veterinary medical education. 2014;41(1):44-54.

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