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Systematic Reviews: Writing a Systematic Review

High-quality systematic reviews are designed to identify all relevant published and unpublished evidence and provide an unbiased synthesis of the findings.

Writing Guidelines

There are several reporting guidelines for systematic reviews. The most common is PRISMA.

Check the journal you plan to publish in to see if they require any particular style, standards, or particular charts or tables. 

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

PRISMA provides lists of items to include in various types of systematic review. Many if not most journals recommend including both the basic checklist and the flow diagram. Peer reviewers also use it to evaluate reviews. 

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

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 and excluded, and the reasons for exclusions.

Other PRISMA Checklists

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

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.