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Evidence Synthesis & Literature Reviews Education


Selected Training

Training for Getting Started

Cochrane Interactive Learning

This module series helps users gain a more in-depth understanding of the process of conducting a systematic review. Make sure you are connected to the VPN before registering for a free account.

Systematic Searches Tutorials

This series covers the fundamental concepts and general procedure of searching the health science literature to ensure your search is comprehensive, methodical, transparent and reproducible.


Review Types

What type of review could you write flowchart

 

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Our librarians have co-authored hundreds of evidence synthesis articles. Our staff is continually trained on new search methodologies and processes.

We adhere to the requirements for authorship and contributorship of the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE).

Click to View Descriptions of Review Types

Reproduced from: Grant MJ, Booth A. A typology of reviews: an analysis of 14 review types and associated methodologies. Health Info Libr J. 2009 Jun;26(2):91-108. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-1842.2009.00848.x. Review. PubMed PMID: 19490148.

Label

Description

Search

Appraisal

Synthesis

Analysis

Critical review

Aims to demonstrate writer has extensively researched literature and critically evaluated its quality. Goes beyond mere description to include degree of analysis and conceptual innovation. Typically results in hypothesis or model.

Seeks to identify significant items in the field.

No formal quality assessment. Attempts to evaluate according to contribution.

Typically narrative, perhaps conceptual or chronological.

Significant component: seeks to identify conceptual contribution to embody existing or derive new theory.

Literature review

Generic term: published materials that provide examination of recent or current literature. Can cover wide range of subjects at various levels of completeness and comprehensiveness. May include research findings.

May or may not include comprehensive searching.

May or may not include quality assessment.

Typically narrative.

Analysis may be chronological, conceptual, thematic, etc.

Mapping review/systematic map

Map out and categorize existing literature from which to commission further reviews and/or primary research by identifying gaps in research literature.

Completeness of searching determined by time/scope constraints.

No formal quality assessment.

May be graphical and tabular.

Characterizes quantity and quality of literature, perhaps by study design and other key features. May identify need for primary or secondary research.

Meta-analysis

Technique that statistically combines the results of quantitative studies to provide a more precise effect of the results.

Aims for exhaustive searching. May use funnel plot to assess completeness.

Quality assessment may determine inclusion/exclusion and/or sensitivity analyses.

Graphical and tabular with narrative commentary.

Numerical analysis of measures of effect assuming absence of heterogeneity.

Mixed studies review/mixed methods review

Refers to any combination of methods where one significant component is a literature review (usually systematic). Within a review context it refers to a combination of review approaches for example combining quantitative with qualitative research or outcome with process studies.

Requires either very sensitive search to retrieve all studies or separately conceived quantitative and qualitative strategies.

Requires either a generic appraisal instrument or separate appraisal processes with corresponding checklists.

Typically both components will be presented as narrative and in tables. May also employ graphical means of integrating quantitative and qualitative studies.

Analysis may characterize both literatures and look for correlations between characteristics or use gap analysis to identify aspects absent in one literature but missing in the other.

Overview

Generic term: summary of the [medical] literature that attempts to survey the literature and describe its characteristics.

May or may not include comprehensive searching (depends whether systematic overview or not).

May or may not include quality assessment (depends whether systematic overview or not).

Synthesis depends on whether systematic or not. Typically narrative but may include tabular features.

Analysis may be chronological, conceptual, thematic, etc.

Qualitative systematic review/qualitative evidence synthesis

Method for integrating or comparing the findings from qualitative studies. It looks for ‘themes’ or ‘constructs’ that lie in or across individual qualitative studies.

May employ selective or purposive sampling.

Quality assessment typically used to mediate messages not for inclusion/exclusion.

Qualitative, narrative synthesis.

Thematic analysis, may include conceptual models.

Rapid review

Assessment of what is already known about a policy or practice issue, by using systematic review methods to search and critically appraise existing research.

Completeness of searching determined by time constraints.

Time-limited formal quality assessment.

Typically narrative and tabular.

Quantities of literature and overall quality/direction of effect of literature.

Scoping review

Preliminary assessment of potential size and scope of available research literature. Aims to identify nature and extent of research evidence (usually including ongoing research).

Completeness of searching determined by time/scope constraints. May include research in progress.

No formal quality assessment.

Typically tabular with some narrative commentary.

Characterizes quantity and quality of literature, perhaps by study design and other key features. Attempts to specify a viable review.

State-of-the-art review

Tend to address more current matters in contrast to other combined retrospective and current approaches. May offer new perspectives on issue or point out area for further research.

Aims for comprehensive searching of current literature.

No formal quality assessment.

Typically narrative, may have tabular accompaniment.

Current state of knowledge and priorities for future investigation and research.

Systematic review

Seeks to systematically search for, appraise and synthesis research evidence, often adhering to guidelines on the conduct of a review.

Aims for exhaustive, comprehensive searching.

Quality assessment may determine inclusion/exclusion.

Typically narrative with tabular accompaniment.

What is known; recommendations for practice. What remains unknown; uncertainty around findings, recommendations for future research.

Systematic search and review

Combines strengths of critical review with a comprehensive search process. Typically addresses broad questions to produce ‘best evidence synthesis’.

Aims for exhaustive, comprehensive searching.

May or may not include quality assessment.

Minimal narrative, tabular summary of studies.

What is known; recommendations for practice. Limitations.

Systematized review

Attempt to include elements of systematic review process while stopping short of systematic review. Typically conducted as postgraduate student assignment.

May or may not include comprehensive searching.

May or may not include quality assessment.

Typically narrative with tabular accompaniment.

What is known; uncertainty around findings; limitations of methodology.

Umbrella review

Specifically refers to review compiling evidence from multiple reviews into one accessible and usable document. Focuses on broad condition or problem for which there are competing interventions and highlights reviews that address these interventions and their results.

Identification of component reviews, but no search for primary studies.

Quality assessment of studies within component reviews and/or of reviews themselves.

Graphical and tabular with narrative commentary.

What is known; recommendations for practice. What remains unknown; recommendations for future research.


Evidence Synthesis Process

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Flowchart of the evidence synthesis process

Evidence Synthesis Process (text only)

  1. Build your evidence synthesis team [preparation stage]

  2. Review reporting guidelines, best practice handbooks, and training modules [preparation stage]

  3. Formulate question and decide on review type [preparation stage]

  4. Search for previous published literature and protocols [preparation stage]

  5. Develop and register a protocol [write-up stage]

  6. Develop and test search strategies [preparation stage]

  7. Peer review of search strategies [preparation stage]

  8. Execute search [retrieval stage]

  9. De-duplicate results [retrieval stage]

  10. Screen title and abstracts [screening stage]

  11. Retrieve full-text articles [retrieval stage]

  12. Screen articles in full-text [screening stage]

  13. Search for grey literature [retrieval stage]

  14. Quality assessment and data extraction [synthesis stage]

  15. Citation chasing [retrieval stage]

  16. Update database searches [retrieval stage]

  17. Synthesize data [synthesis stage]

  18. Manuscript development [write-up stage]


Selected Protocols, Guidelines, & Tools

Protocols & Reporting Guidelines

  • PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses)
  • SWiM (Synthesis without Meta-Analysis)
  • BEME Collaboration Review Protocol (Best Evidence Medical Education) 
  • MECIR (Methodological Expectations for Cochrane Intervention Reviews)
  • MOOSE (Meta-analyisis of Observational Studies in Epidemiology) 
  • ENTREQ (Enhancing Transparency in Reporting the Synthesis of Qualitative Research)

Protocol Registries

Quality Assessment Instruments

Data Repository