ResourcesEvidence Informed Policy and PracticeWhat is a Systematic Review?
What is a systematic review?

Reviews of research are not necessarily rigorous or explicit in their methods of review

Most reviews of research take the form of traditional literature reviews, which usually examine the results of only a small part of the research evidence, and take the claims of report authors at face value. The key features of a systematic review or systematic research synthesis are that:

  • explicit and transparent methods are used
  • it is a piece of research following a standard set of stages
  • it is accountable, replicable and updateable
  • there is a requirement of user involvement to ensure reports are relevant and useful.

Systematic reviews aim to find as much as possible of the research relevant to the particular research questions, and use explicit methods to identify what can reliably be said on the basis of these studies. Methods should not only be explicit but systematic with the aim of producing varied and reliable results. Find out more on why it is important to be systematic. Such reviews then go on to synthesise research findings in a form which is easily accessible to those who have to make policy or practice decisions. In this way, systematic reviews reduce the bias which can occur in other approaches to reviewing research evidence.

To find out more about how these methods have developed, see our page on the History of systematic reviews. For detailed information about each stage of a systematic review, please see our page Methods for a systematic review.

The methods used in systematic reviews have traditionally given more attention to research reporting evaluations of interventions than to other kinds of research. Ways of locating, reviewing and synthesising non-intervention research are thus an important challenge, and one which is central to the EPPI Centre’s work.

See also the Methods, Tools and Databases for more information about methods of systematic reviews.

For details on EPPI-Reviewer 4, our software tool for research synthesis, please visit the EPPI-Reviewer 4 gateway.

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