Your Ultimate Guide to Writing a Systematic Review

One of the highly complex reviews that your professor may ask you write is a systematic review. A systematic review is a review of clearly formulated questions that uses systematic and explicit methods to identify, choose and critically appraise revenant primary research while at the same time extracting and analyzing data from the studies included in the review.

In simple terms, this type of review attempts to collect all existing evidence on a given topic to help answer specific research questions. So as the writer, you’ll need to create criteria to help you decide the evidence to include or exclude you start the actual systematic review. In doing so, you minimize the risk of bias while making your findings more reliable.

There’s no that writing a systematic review is a complicated process. But lucky for you, this guide will teach you everything you need to learn about reviews. That includes the different types of review, the standard procedures followed, and the best approach to take when conducting and writing a review.

In the end, our paper writing services aim to help you with the necessary information to help you complete your systematic review on yourself and score HD grades today. Keep reading ON!

What are various types of Systematic Reviews?

Before proceeding further, you need to understand the various types of reviews and how they are employed in various circumstances without confusion.

Perhaps one of the widely confused types of reviews got to be systematic review with the literature (narrative) reviews.

Systematic reviews vs literature review

Students also confuse systematic reviews with literature reviews. Let’s first begin by differentiating these two types of common reviews.

Let’s first begin by differentiating these two types of common reviews:

What is a Literature/narrative review

When writing a literature review, you describe and appraise previous work without describing the specific methodology the studies you reviewed were identified, selected, and evaluated.

Basically, you use discussions, overviews, critiques of other people’s works, and identify the current gaps in knowledge.

However, literature reviews are not without limitations. Here are the fundamental limitations when using literature or narrative reviews to conduct your research:

  • You can understand the author’s schedule
  • Literature reviews are biased because no one understands the biases that occurred when filled, which occurs when choosing and assessing the literature.
  • Finally, you can’t replicate the literature review

What is a Systematic Review

When writing a systematic review, you’ll need to first identify the scope of the review in advance. That means you must have clearly formatted review questions, the sub-sections, and any subgroup that you’re going to undertake.

Next, you will need to conduct a comprehensive search and find all the relevant studies. Once you have the relevant studies, you’ll need to use explicit criteria that can help you understand which sources of studies to include or exclude in your research.

Noteworthy, you’ll need to apply the established standards to critically appraise the quality of the studies. Finally, conducting and writing a systematic review requires the application of explicit methods to extract and synthesize study findings –and can use quantities, qualitative, or even quantities synthesis in some cases.

Unlike a literature review that discusses, overviews, and critiques previous works to identify the gap in knowledge, writing a systematic review requires that you identify, appraise and synthesize all the relevant research regarding the specific review questions.

Additionally, ensure you collect all the information about a topic and, most importantly, identify the basis of that knowledge.

After doing all the above, your end product will be a comprehensive report that uses explicit processes to ensure that the assumptions, rationales, and methods adopted are open to examination from external parties.

Helpful tip:

One commonly asked question is when is it the most appropriate time to use a review?

The most appropriate time to use a literature review is to answer questions regarding the effectiveness. Thus you’re comparing two different interventions or treatment methods.

Other types of reviews

Other than the literature review and the systematic reviews, other reviews exist. Below are others types of reviews that you can get assigned by your professors or instructors.

i.       Rapid review

A Rapid review is a form of evidence synthesis providing more timely information for decision-making than a formal systematic review.

While the method of conducting rapid reviews varies, you typically have less than 5 weeks to conduct your research.

Rapid reviews are used mainly by policymakers who require a short deadline to decide. They can’t use a systematic review to synthesize the evidence. Thus, rapid reviews speed up the systematic review process since you omit some stages included in a systematic review, making it less rigorous.

Helpful tip:

Rapid reviews are best designed to update previous reviews, new or emerging research topics, and critical topics and assess what is already known about a practice or policy using systematic review methods.

What are the basics of a rapid review? Outlining the stages

At a glance, here are the key things that you need to beware of before you start writing a rapid review.

  1. Timeframe

As discussed above, a rapid review should take five weeks. Though this timeframe may vary, some of the factors that may influence the amount of time employed include but are not limited to:

  • The quality and quantity of literature available
  • Resources available
  • The experience of the reviewer or the expertise
  • Question

Next, you need to focus and narrow down your topic. To do this, you can apply the PICO method and also ask yourself whether your complex interventions meet these two common characteristics:

  • Do your complex question have multiple components—internal complexity
  • Are they complicated or have multiple pathway complexity, synergies, feedback loops, moderators and mediators of the effects

Other characteristics of complex interventions include:

  • Population complexity—who is the multiple target participants, organizational, or group levels
  • Implementation complexity—what is the required multifaceted adoption, integration or uptake strategies
  • Finally, there is contextual complexity—where does the intervention work
  • Sources and searches

While sources are limited due to searching for them, be advised to use reproducible and transparent search methods.

  • Selecting sources

Select sources based on either their inclusion or exclusion criteria

  • Critical appraisal

Next, you need to critically and rigorously appraise sources within the shortest time possible.

  • Synthesis

Finally, ensure you provide a categorization or summary of all data—even if it’s quantities.

Limitations of Rapid review

Like other types of reviews, a rapid review has its own limitations. These are:

  • The search isn’t comprehensive
  • In some instances, the only reviewer is available
  • The rapid review has cautious/limited interpretation of the findings
  • Potential bias may come up when interpreting the findings
  • Though they can impact a practise or policy, you’ll still need to write a systematic review

ii.      Scoping review

The other type of review that your professor can assign you is the scoping review. A scoping review has excellent utility for synthesizing research evidence and can group or categorize existing literature in a given discipline in terms of features, nature, and volume.

Helpful tip:

People often confuse a scoping review with a mapping review, but the two are entirely different entities.

While mapping reviews are more question-based, scoping reviews are more topics based. Their aim is to identify the extent and nature of research evidence.

In that regard, scoping reviews are best suited for:

Scoping reviews are best used when the body of literature is not comprehensively reviewed, and it exhibits a complex, large or heterogeneous nature not amenable to a more specified systematic review.

So, a scoping review can assist you in the following ways:

  • Labelling body of research with relevance to location, time, origin, and source
  • Clarifying working definitions and conceptual boundaries of a given topic
  • Identifying gaps in existing research/literature

What are the outline stages when writing a scoping review?

  1. Time

A scoping review can take up to 12 months or longer—which is also the same amount of time it takes to write a systematic review.

Like other forms of review, the timeframe may vary depending on several factors among them but not limited to:

  • Expertise
  • The quality and quantity of the research
  • And the resources available
  • Question

Scoping review answers broader but topic-focused questions beyond those related to the effectiveness of interventions and treatments. When using the scoping review, it is recommended that you apply the priori review protocol.

  • Sources and searches

Now that you’ve your questions ready conduct a comprehensive search. Even though you’re a time constraint, you still aim to repeatable and thorough all the literature. Most importantly, you need to include the PRISMA flow diagram in your scoping review.

  • Selecting sources

Based on the inclusion/exclusion criteria, you may need to make some changes because of the iterative nature of a scoping review. That means you may spend more time screening articles because of a larger volume of results from broader questions.

  • Synthesis

Ensure you present data using both some narrative combined with the tabular presentation. Be sure to include a charting table and some descriptive form aligning to the scope and objectives of the review.

Helpful tip:

The appraisal and the consultation stages are optional for your review.

iii.    Mapping review

The other type of review that you can come across is the mapping review. A mapping review focuses on visual syntheses of data. It is questions based instead of being topic-based, like scoping review.

You can use mapping review when there’s abundant and diverse research. Also, note that mapping reviews act as the first step toward a systematic review. It helps identify gaps in topic research.

Here are some of the limitations of using mapping reviews:

  • Mapping reviews are broad in nature, and conducting rapid search means you will mean some articles
  • Its time consuming since it takes more than 12 months of work
  • Mapping reviews may also be inconsistent

iv.    Meta-synthesis review

 You conduct and write a meta-synthesis to form new interpretations of the research field when bringing together qualitative data. In these ways, you can build new theories. It should not be confused with meta-analysis that tests a hypothesis using quantities data.

Basically, a meta-synthesis generates a theory like explanatory theory, implementation theory, and program theory to explain why an intervention works or doesn’t. You can use meta-synthesis reviews to re-interpret the meaning of various qualitative studies.

v.     Mixed methods review

A mixed-methods review broadens the concepts of evidence, uses inclusive methods, and produces syntheses of evidence accessible to and usable by other researchers.

You can best use the mixed methods reviews in the following circumstances:

  • When writing about multidisciplinary topics with literature ranging from qualitative, quantities and mixed methods studies.
  • When you’re looking to determine not the impacts of interventions but also their appropriateness
  • to identify research groups
  • To provide an explanation for probable  heterogeneity between trials
  • When answering multiple questions in a single systematic review
  • Integrative review

You can use the integrative review because it allows the inclusion of diverse methodologies –that can be experimental or non-experimental research.

To effectively write an integrative review, you will need to include both past theoretical and empirical literature to comprehensively understand the specific phenomenon in healthcare settings. These reviews help shape policy initiatives, inform research practice and build a nursing practice.

You can use an integrative review in one of the following fields:

  • In nursing profession
  • When reviewing experimental and non-experimental research concurrently so as concepts, review theories, review evidence, and analyze methodological issues.

Steps by step for writing a systematic review

Now that we have looked at different types of reviews you can get assigned, below are vital steps to write a proper systematic review that can earn you HD grades.

Step #1: Formulating a research question

Start your systematic review by putting your topic into a well-built clinical question framework. An excellent systematic review question should include 4 essential elements referred to as PICO, which stands for:

  • P-Patient or population or problem/disease

What or who is the question about? Such may include disease, primary problem, or circumstances, sex, race, or age is also relevant to diagnosis or treatment of disease.

  • I-Intervention, exposure or prognostic factor

What primary treatment/intervention are you considering? What influences the patient’s prognosis—can be comorbidities or age?

  • C-Control or Comparison (S)

Is there an alternative intervention that you considering?

  • O-Outcome (S)

What are you trying to measure or accomplish? What is it are you trying to do for the patient? For instance, they are trying to prevent disease, alleviate symptoms, manage a disease, etc.

  • T-Timeframe—what amount of time are you observing the problem or patient? It may be months, weeks or a year?

Step #2: Developing a research protocol

A research protocol is a detailed plan of how you will study a health science or biomedical problem. A system review research protocol should have the following elements:

  • The objectives of your research
  • Be specific on the processes and methods you’ll apply
  • Include a study design
  • Explains how you will extract data
  • Explain how you will perform data analyses

Step #3: Conducting a literature search

Here you’ll need to consult your librarian to help you come up with a search strategy. Aim to find out all the relevant studies regarding your topic but, most importantly, ensure that the search is thorough. Working with a librarian will help you choose databases relevant to your topic and create a detailed search strategy.

You also need to do searches outside the standard academic publishing model. This type of literature is known as grey literature. Therefore, you search the conference proceedings, browse pharmaceutical company websites, and contact experts in the field. You need to consult the grey literature since negative results are less likely to be published, which can impact your findings’ reliability.

Remember to keep a detailed record as you do your search while documenting essential details like:

  • The databases you searched and the years the databases covered
  • The dates when the search was first done and updated
  • The details of strategies the author used, among them
  • The results you find out
  • Note the publication title and the author’s as these come in handy when creating a bibliography

Step #4: Selecting studies per protocol

Proper screening of the studies should be done by two reviewers. The key here is to use criteria documented in your protocol. First, you’ll need to look at the title of the publication and its abstracts.

The second round of rounding should involve reviewing full-text articles for the chosen studies. It’s also vital that you keep a log of excluded studies and state why these sources were omitted.

Step #5: Appraising studies per protocol

Again, a team of two reviewers should evaluate the methodological quality of choosing publications. Be sure to use a checklist to determine whether studies meet the criterion of the selected protocol. Here are vital questions you can ask yourself to help appraise the studies per protocol.

  • Were the patients randomly assigned to a group?
  • Was the allocation sequence concealed from the clinicians and patients?
  • Are the study conclusions impacted by bias?

Step #6: Extracting data

The next step you need to consider when conducting and writing a systematic review is data extraction. The trick here is creating a data form.

Again, work with at least two reviewers to extract data from included publications. You can consult the Cochrane protocol to get a template you can adapt for your data.

Step #7: Analyzing results

To analyze the results of your systematic review, you need to create a table of study results and prepare a forest plot to help you demonstrate the relative strength of treatment effects, if necessary. Also, you need to analyze data for issues like variations across studies or heterogeneity and the sensitivity of the findings.

Step #8: Interpreting results

 To interpret the results, you need to consider the biases or limitations, applicability, strength of evidence, economic impact, and the impacts for the future of the research or practice.

Before you go!

Systematic reviews are essential to several types of organizations in the behavioral, social, and educational field which use evidence-based policy.

You need to conduct and write a systematic review to confirm or refute whether or not the current practice is based on relevant evidence, find out the quality of the evidence presented, and address any uncertainty or changes in practice that may be occurring in the sector like health. That’s why you need to identify, evaluate and synthesize research results and establish a summary of current evidence contributing to evidence-based practice.

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