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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

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, Medicine Standards 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:

  • Be a named co-investigator or collaborator on any submitted grant proposals.
  • Participate in meetings of the research team.  
  • Provide guidance for developing a protocol for the review.
  • Recommend and rank research databases and other resources for their likely yield of relevant studies and documents for the research question(s).
  • Develop and revise the data collection strategy in accordance with existing best practice standards, and in consultation with the principal investigator(s).
  • Keep detailed records of search results and data collection strategies, so that these can be documented in the final report/article.
  • Write up the data collection strategy portion of the Methods section of the review in compliance with best practice reporting standards:
  • Review and edit 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.
  • Recommend and rank research databases and other resources for their likely yield of relevant studies and documents for the research question(s).
  • Provide feedback on identified search terms and search strategies tailored to the research question(s).
  • Provide guidance 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.
  • A typical consultation will last approximately 1-2 hours, with one follow up meeting.


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.

Review Protocols:

Chan, K.K., Joo, D.A., McRae, A. D., Takwoingi, Y., Premji Z. A., Lang, E., & Wakai, A.. Chest ultrasonography versus supine chest radiography for diagnosis of pneumothorax in trauma patients in the emergency department [Protocol]. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2018: 5,

Pethrick H, Nowell L, Oddone Paolucci E, Lorenzetti L, Jacobsen M, Clancy T, Lorenzetti DL. Psychosocial and career outcomes of peer mentorship in medical resident education: a systematic review protocol. Syst Rev. 2017 Aug 31;6(1):178.

Wajid A, Mughal MK, McNeil D, Robertson HL, Kingston D. Effect of maternal mental health improvement programs on obesity in pediatric populations: a protocol for a systematic review and meta-analysis. Syst Rev. 2018 Aug 29;7(1):133.


Scoping Reviews:


Baker T, Kutz S, Toews L, Edwards N, Rock M. Are we adequately evaluating subsidized veterinary services? A scoping review. Prev Vet Med. 2018 Sep 1;157:59-69.

Santana MJ, Ahmed S, Lorenzetti D, Jolley RJ, Manalili K, Zelinsky S, Quan H, Lu M. Measuring patient-centred system performance: a scoping review of patient-centred care quality indicators. BMJ Open. 2019 Jan 7;9(1):e023596.



Systematic Reviews:


Archer DP, McCann SK, Walker AM, Premji ZA, Rogan KJ, Hutton MJH, Gray LJ. Neuroprotection by anaesthetics in rodent models of traumatic brain injury: a systematic review and network meta-analysis. Br J Anaesth. 2018 Dec;121(6):1272-1281.

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.

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.

Lorenzetti DL, Quan H, Lucyk K, Cunningham C, Hennessy D, Jiang J, Beck CA. Strategies for improving physician documentation in the emergency department: a systematic review. BMC Emerg Med. 2018 Oct 25;18(1):36.

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).

Wong C, Teitge B, Ross M, Young P, Robertson HL, Lang E. The accuracy and prognostic value of point-of-care ultrasound for nephrolithiasis in the emergency department: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Acad Emerg Med. 2018 Jun;25(6):684-698.




Kelly MA, Nixon L, McClurg C, Scherpbier A, King N, Dornan T. Experience of touch in health care: a meta-ethnography across the health care professions. Qual Health Res. 2018 Jan;28(2):200-212.






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