Skip to main content
Becker Medical Library logotype
Library Quicklinks and Information

Systematic Reviews: Getting Started

Resources to Support Work in Systematic Reviews

Partner with Your Librarian

Partner with Your Librarians...


Contact us at


Steps involved for a Systematic Review  

  1. Develop an answerable question 
  2. Check for recent systematic reviews  
  3. Agree on specific inclusion and exclusion criteria 
  4. Develop a system to organize data and notes
  5. Devise reproducible search methods 
  6. Launch and track exhaustive search 
  7. Organize search results 
  8. Reproduce search results 
  9. Abstract data into a standardized format
  10. Synthesize data using statistical methods (meta-analysis)  
  11. Write about what you found  

Staying Organized

Plan Ahead

Decide as a team what tools to use to stay organized. If your team includes people you do not have physical access to, consider using tools in the cloud that will offer the opportunity to easily collaborate on single documents as opposed to emailing back and forth and thus having to track several revised versions of the same document.


The goal is to keep records in the most systematic way possible so that all of your work can be reproduced. That means you should keep detailed records of the exact search you used for each database and that all your searches should have an end date so that the results can be reproduced exactly every time.


  •  detailed records of each search in addition to saving searches in your personal accounts (like your My NCBI account in PubMed)

  •  all your citations in a citation management program (like EndNote) so you can easily and quickly manipulate them

  •  a spreadsheet organized by article and sub-organized by preliminary inclusion and exclusion criteria to track why you included and excluded articles for more in-depth review

  •  detailed notes of in-depth reviews for each article organized by specific criteria


What You Need To Conduct a Systematic Review

Time (18 months, average)

The average systematic review requires 18 months of work. “…to find out about a healthcare intervention it is worth searching research literature thoroughly to see if the answer is already known. This may require considerable work over many months…” (Cochrane Collaboration)

Team Members (at minimum...)

  • Content expert
  • 2 reviewers
  • 1 tie breaker
  • 1 statistician (meta-analysis)
  • *1 information professional (librarian trained in systematic reviews)

“Expert searchers are an important part of the systematic review team, crucial throughout the review process-from the development of the proposal and research question to publication.” (McGowan & Sampson, 2005)

*Be sure to ask your information professional to write a methods section regarding the search methods and to give them co-authorship. You may also want to consider providing a copy of one of the search strategies used in an appendix.


Before your librarian creates a search strategy and starts searching in earnest you should write a detailed PICO question, determine the inclusion and exclusion criteria for your study, run a preliminary search, and have 2-4 articles that already fit the criteria for your review.

What is searched depends on the topic of the review but should include...

  • At least 3 standard medical databases like PubMed/Medline, CINAHL, Embase, etc..
  • At least 2 grey literature resources like, SIGLE, ProQuest Dissertations & Theses, etc...

Citation Management System

You will need a citation management system like EndNote to handle the large number of citations that you will need to deal with. At this time, I can only recommend EndNote. Other systems like RefWorks and free ones like Zotero and EndNote Web, at this time, cannot handle the tasks or amounts of citation data typical for systematic reviews. 

$$ EndNote: Wash U Faculty and Staff have access to EndNote for a 37.00 renewable license.  


Your librarian is not the appropriate person to obtain the physical articles. It is a fairly easy, though time consuming task, that we are happy to show you or someone on your team how to do.

$$ It is doubtful that we own every article you will need to look at so be sure to plan for the expense of inter-library loan. Inter-library loan is a service provided to you by Becker Library that will obtain articles we don't own on your behalf. There is a charge of 6.00 per article for Wash U faculty and staff and 8.00 per article for BJH/BJC/SLCH members.  



Citation Management: EndNote - Becker Library provides access to EndNote on our Research Pods as well. In addition, Wash U Faculty and Staff can purchase a renewable license for $ 37.00 here

Screening, Analysis and Data Extraction 

Early Review Organising Software: EROS 

Summary of Findings: GRADEpro creates Summary of Findings (SoF) tables. 

Statistics: Becker Library has the following software available on our Research Pods