Systematic reviewing

Systematic reviewing

These pages aim to give a few general pointers to help you carry out systematic review. A systematic review is not the same thing as an annotated bibliography, a best evidence topic, a critically appraised topic (CAT) or a literature search. However, it may be worthwhile reading these pages if you are about to undertake any of these activities!

Some definitions:
  • Systematic reviews are a comprehensive survey of a focused question in which all of the primary studies of the highest level of evidence are systematically identified, appraised and then summarized according to an explicit and reproducible methodology. Systematic reviews differ from traditional reviews and commentaries produced by ‘content experts’ in that they adhere to a scientific methodology which seeks to minimise bias and errors. There are a number of international organisations that prepare, maintain and disseminate systematic reviews including: The Cochrane CollaborationThe Campbell Collaboration (C2); The Joanna Briggs Institute.
  • A randomised controlled trial (RCT) is an experiment in which investigators randomly allocate eligible people into (for example, treatment and control) groups to receive or not to receive one or more interventions that are being compared.
  • A Meta analysis is a statistical technique for assembling the results of several studies in a review into a single numerical estimate.

  • Annotated bibliography: An annotated bibliography gives an account of the research that has been done on a given topic. It is an alphabetical list of research sources. In addition to bibliographic data, an annotated bibliography provides a concise summary of each source and some assessment of its value or relevance. Depending on your assignment, an annotated bibliography may be one stage in a larger research project, or it may be an independent project.
  • Best evidence topic: BETs were developed in the Emergency Department of Manchester Royal Infirmary, to provide rapid evidence-based answers to real-life clinical questions, using a systematic approach to reviewing the literature. BETs take into account the shortcomings of much current evidence, allowing physicians to make the best of what there is. Check out the BestBETs web site.
  • Critically appraised topic (CAT): is a short summary of evidence on a topic, usually focused around a clinical question. A CAT is like a shorter and less rigorous version of a systematic review, summarising the best available research evidence on a topic. Usually more than one study is included in a CAT. When you summarise a single study, the outcome is a critically appraised paper (or CAP).

This page was produced in collaboration with Dr Helen Marlborough of Glasgow University Library.