What is a systematic review?

A systematic review is an academic research paper, also called a report, that uses a method called 'evidence synthesis' to look for answers to a pre-defined question.

The purpose of a systematic review is to sum up the best available research on that specific question. This is done by synthesizing the results of several studies.

A systematic review uses transparent procedures to find, evaluate and synthesize the results of relevant research. Procedures are explicitly defined in advance, to ensure that the exercise is transparent and can be replicated. This practice is also designed to minimize bias.

Studies included in a review are screened for quality, so that the findings of a large number of studies can be combined. Peer review is a key part of the process; qualified independent researchers review the author's methods and results.

A systematic review must have:

  • Clear inclusion and exclusion criteria
  • An explicit search strategy
  • Systematic coding and analysis of included studies
  • Meta-analysis (where possible)

How do Campbell systematic reviews differ from less reliable systematic reviews?

  • Campbell reviews must include a systematic search for unpublished reports, to avoid publication bias.
  • Campbell reviews are usually international in scope.
  • A protocol (project plan) for the review is developed in advance and also undergoes peer review.
  • Study inclusion and coding decisions are carried out by at least two reviewers who work independently and compare results.
  • Study quality is appraised.
  • Campbell reviews undergo peer review and editorial review.
  • Campbell reviews provide answers for decisionmakers by using rigorous methods to synthesize evidence, including, where appropriate, statistical meta-analysis of quantitative evidence and theory-based analysis of qualitative evidence.

See all the Campbell systematic reviews on our journal website: click here.

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