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Systematic Reviews: Writing a Systematic Review

Writing Guidelines

PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses)

PRISMA provides lists of items to include in various types of systematic reviews. Many journals require including both the basic checklist and the flow diagram. Peer reviewers also use it to evaluate reviews. PRISMA revamped both the checklist and the flow diagram in March 2021. The new format is called PRISMA 2020.

PRISMA 2020 Checklist:  a list of items to include in your systematic review. 

PRISMA 2020 Expanded Checklist:  the same list as above but with more details and explanation. 

PRISMA Flow Diagram:  tracks the flow of information through the different phases of a systematic review. It maps out the number of records identified, included/excluded, and the reasons for exclusions. 

Other PRISMA Checklists

PRISMA-S: a list of items to include in the Methods section describing the literature searching

PRISMA-P: a list of items to include in your protocol

PRISMA-A:  a list of items to include in your structured abstract

PRISMA Harms: for reviews including harm outcomes

PRISMA NMA: for network meta-analyses

PRISMA DTA: for diagnostic test accuracy

PRISMA Scoping: for scoping reviews

PRISMA Searching: for reporting your search strategies

Journal Requirements for Systematic Reviews

Each journal may have different requirements for systematic reviews. Link to your journal's "Instructions for Authors" to find out. 


Other Writing Tools

EQUATOR Network: (Enhancing the QUAlity and Transparency Of health Research) allows you to choose the section of the systematic review you're writing and provides links to writing guides on it. 

MECIR Manual Standards for reporting new Cochrane Intervention reviews: Even if you're not writing a Cochrane systematic review, MECIR provides good standards on writing the following sections: 
  • Key points & Introduction
  • Reporting review conduct
  • Results 
  • References
  • Citations

Assessing Systematic Reviews

Not all systematic reviews are created equal.  Here are some tools to help you assess the quality of systematic reviews.  These are also the tools that peer-reviewers may be using to judge the quality of your systematic review before accepting it for publication. 

  • AMSTAR:  (A MeaSurement Tool to Assess systematic Reviews) a list of 16 questions to assess methodological quality
  • CASP: Critical Appraisal Skills Programme Critical appraisal tools  to evaluate many types of reports such as systematic reviews, randomized controlled trials, cohort studies, and more.
  • ROBIS a tool for assessing Risk of Bias in systematic reviews on criteria such as establishing eligibility criteria, identifying and selecting of studies, collecting data, appraising studies, synthesizing findings.