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Research & Learning Connection: Systematic Reviews

This research guide provides information and services to advance the research success of UTHSC faculty, staff, and students.

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Library Services to Support Systematic Reviews

What is a systematic review?

AHRQ defines a systematic review as "a summary of the clinical literature. A systematic review is a critical assessment and evaluation of all research studies that address a particular clinical issue. The researchers use an organized method of locating, assembling, and evaluating a body of literature on a particular topic using a set of specific criteria. A systematic review typically includes a description of the findings of the collection of research studies. The systematic review may also include a quantitative pooling of data, called a meta-analysis."

What can a librarian help with a systematic review?

Basic Service

Librarians provide face-to-face consultations covering the processes and best practices for conducting a systematic review. It is designed to get the researcher started.

  • Provide consultation on SR process and guidelines
  • Give advice on identifying controlled vocabulary and keywords 
  • Provide recommendations for databases and other resources to search for evidence
  • Give advice on citation management methods and tools

Advanced Service

Librarians are considered full team members of the research team and conduct in-depth literature searches, assist with citation management, and write the literature search methodology for the final paper for publication.

  • Use PICO (Patient problem, Intervention, Comparison, and Outcome) to identify key concepts
  • Identify appropriate search terms: controlled vocabulary and keywords in conjunction with SR team members
  • Conduct literature searches across multiple databases
  • Document line by line database search strategies
  • Organize references retrieved from difference sources
  • Assist in retrieving full text articles
  • Update search results prior to the final write-up 
  • Write up the search part of the methodology section for publication
  • Review manuscript

Before you begin a systematic review, ask yourself:

  • Do I have a clearly defined clinical question with established inclusion and exclusion criteria?
  • Do I have a team of at least three people assembled?
  • Do I have time to go through as many search results as we might find?
  • Do I have resources to get foreign language articles appropriately translated?
  • Do I have the statistical resources to analyze and data pool?

If you answered “No” to any of the first four questions, a traditional literature review will be more appropriate to do.

Systematic Review Services Request Form


Systematic Review Standards

Systematic Review Databases & Resources

General Biomedical Databases

  • PubMed/Medline: The premier biomedical database of the US National Library of Medicine
  • Scopus: A Multi disciplinary citation database

Subject Specific Databases

  • CINAHL (Cumulative Index in Nursing and Allied Health Literature)
  • FAIR (Finding Answers Intervention Research) Database: a searchable tool containing 388 journal article summaries, distilled from 11 systematic reviews of the published health disparities literature. 
  • PsycINFO: literature related to psychology and psychological aspects of related disciplines. 

Databases for Finding Reviews

  • PubMed Clinical Query: A search  strategy to retrieve citations identified as systematic reviews or meta-analyses.
  • TRIP Database: A tool to find systematic reviews using PICO (Population, Intervention, Comparison, and Outcome)
  • Cochrane Systematic Reviews: The resource includes the full text of the regularly updated systematic reviews of the effects of healthcare prepared by The Cochrane Collaboration.
  • Joanna Briggs EBP:The resource includes over 3,000 records across seven publication types: Evidence Based Recommended Practices, Evidence Summaries, Best Practice Information Sheets, Systematic Reviews, Consumer Information Sheets, Systematic Review Protocols, and Technical Reports.

Gray Literature

Gray literature refers to "information produced on all levels of government, academics, business and industry in electronic and print formats not controlled by commercial publishing" ie. where publishing is not the primary activity of the producing body." — ICGL Luxembourg definition, 1997. Expanded in New York, 2004. They include conference abstracts or papers, hard to find studies, reports, or dissertations, governmental or private sector research, ongoing or unpublished clinical trials, etc.

  • US government registry and results database of publicly and privately supported clinical studies of human participants conducted around the world.
  • UK Clinical Trial Gateway (UKCTG): Provides information about clinical research trials running in the UK.
  • The WHO ICTRP: A central database that contains the trial registration data sets provided by clinical trials registers to the World Health Organization.
  • NIH RePORTer: A searchable database of federally funded biomedical research projects conducted at universities, hospitals, and other research institutions. It also provides access to publications and patents resulting from NIH funding.
  • OpenGrey: covers Science, Technology, Biomedical Science, Economics, Social Science and Humanities.
  • Gray Literature Report: Gray literature publications in health services research and selected public health topics. 
  • MedNar:  a search tool to search websites such as  medical societies, NIH resources, and other government resources.
  • Proquest Dissertation Database: A collection of theses and dissertations by UTHSC students. 
  • Gray literature producing organizations: A list of grey literature publishers compiled by the New York Academy of Medical Library 

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Systematic Review/Meta Analysis software

Systematic Review Software

  • Covidence: helps streamline the systematic review process. You can create your review, invite others to join a review, and contribute to other reviews you've been invited to. Subscription is required. 
  • Distiller SR: a web-based systematic review software designed specifically for the screening and data extraction phases of a systematic review.
  • EPPI-Reviewer 4:  software for managing and analysing data in literature review and has been developed for all types of systematic review such as meta-analysis, framework synthesis and thematic synthesis. This video demonstrates what the software can do with systematic reviews.
  • EROS (Early Review Organizing Software): web-based software desinged specifically for the first stages to perform systematic reviews.
  • RevMan: from Cochrane Collaboration, free for academic use, but support is only for registered Cochrane authors.
  • Rayyan: free tool (web and mobile app) for sorting articles into include/exclude status with labels.

  • Joanna Briggs Institute
    • Sumari (System for the Unified Management, Assessment and Review of Information), JBI's premier software for the systematic review of literature.
    • RAPID (Rapid Assessment Protocol Internet Database): an online training resource that provides a framework for critical appraisal of research papers using established data collection tools. RAPid has been designed to assist individual practitioners or students to acquire the skills of posing relevant questions about the feasibility, appropriateness, meaningfulness of an intervention or professional activity.
  • SRDR (Systematic Review Database Repository): from the Agency of Healthcare Research & Quality. It is a tool for the extraction and management of data for systematic review or meta-analysis. It is also an open and searchable archive of systematic reviews and their data.

Meta Analysis Software

  • CMA (Comprehensive Meta Analysis): computer program for conducting meta-analysis. This video provides a overview of the software.
  • MAStARI (Meta Analysis of Statistics Assessment and Review Instrument): Joanna Briggs Institute
  • MIX 2.0 Lite for meta analysis. The software is free to use and distribute as long as it is not for commercial purposes.
  • Pratical meta anlaysis effect size calculator : from the Campbell Collaboration. It is designed to facilitate the computation of effect-sizes for meta-analysis.

Text-Mining Tools



Tech Level




VIZ WFA Comments
Abstrackr Free Low   X       Systematic review support
AntCont Free Medium     X   X Requires installation
Carrott2 Free High   X       Requires installation
EndNote Free for UTHSC  Low         X Requires license and installation. Tutorials


Free Trial Medium X X       Requires installation
Excel Commercial Product Low         X Requires customized coding
GATE  Free High     X     Requires installation
GoPubMed Free Low X       X Requires registration; PubMed interface
MyMiner Free Medium     X     Requires installation
PubReMiner Free Low     X   X PubMed interface
TerMine Free Medium X         Web version for demonstration; register for batch service
tm for R Free High X         Requires coding / syntax
VOSviewer Free Medium     X X   Requires installation
Voyant Tools Free Medium     X X X Web-based
WordStat/SimStat Commercial Product High   X   X X Requires license and installation

 ATM = automatic term recognition; DTM = document term matrix; DCL = document classification; DCT = document clustering; TCA = text categorization; TCL = text cluster; VIZ: visualization; WFA: word frequency analysis

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Reference Management Tools for Systematic Reviews

Literature reporting using reference management software for systematic reviews:


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Systematic Review Data Extraction and Management

Systematic Review Data Repository
The systematic Review Data Repository (SRDR) is a powerful and easy-to-use tool for the extraction and management of data for systematic review or meta-analysis. It is also an open and searchable archive of systematic reviews and their data. 

Cochrane RevMan
You can use RevMan for protocols and full reviews. It is most useful when you have formulated the question for the review and allows you to prepare the text, build the tables showing the characteristics of studies and the comparisons in the review, and add study data. It can perform meta-analyses and present the results graphically. Down load RevMan here.

Cochrane Data Extraction Template
This template aims to help you start developing your own data extraction form, it certainly has to be adapted to your specific question. Delete unnecessary information and include all information important to your field.