Posted on: 30th Jul 2021 1220 Views

Conducting a Systematic Review: Detailed Guide for Irish research students

Irish students studying in institutions across Ireland are often required to do academic assignments. They have to pen down systematic reviews for academic purposes.

In this context, it is important to know what a systematic review is. A proper systematic review answers a research question. It collects as well as combines empirical evidence that is appropriate to eligibility criteria.

Conducting a Systematic Review: Detailed Guide for Irish Research Students

Often system reviews are handled by a team and it takes almost 12 months to complete a systematic review. The reviews in this context can take the form of observations or they can take the form of interventions.

A systematic review should consist of objectives that are clearly stated. The reviews must have reproducible mythologies.

The review must contain a systematic search that helps to comprehend studies. It must also contain an evaluation of the rationality of the discoveries of the incorporated studies.

The systematic review must also contain a systematic synthesis and presentation of discoveries and attributes of incorporated studies.

In this blog, the definition of systematic review is discussed. It is also discussed the various characteristics of the systematic review.

Definition of a systematic review

A systematic review is very much like a literature review and it answers a particular question that is associated with research. A systematic review uses explicit methodologies to do a complete literature search. Such reviews complete an appraisal of the studies that are gathered.

A systematic review also helps to combine studies utilizing appropriate statistical methods. In short, it can be stated that systematic reviews can be considered the best sources of evidence on any particular topic.

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How to do a systematic review?

This section of the blog highlights how to perform a systematic review. Systematic reviews require steps that take almost 12 months to finish. Such reviews are completed by a team of individuals having skills.

A systematic review is a process of evaluating all the research on an issue and then cataloguing it. This method can be applied to any topic, including how we should address climate change or even what causes cancer.

A systematic review can either be quantitative or qualitative.

  • Quantitative method:  which is numerical and includes studies that have numeric data like numbers of participants or treatments given to a group.
  • The qualitative system will derive its information from observation, interviews, and verbal interactions. These types of reviews include focus groups as well as diaries for the individual participant’s experience.

There are statistical experts, search experts, and subject experts that are included in the doing of a systematic review.

Important attributes of a systematic review

The following are the vital attributes of a systematic review:-

  • In a systematic review, there is a set of goals with already mentioned exclusion and inclusion criteria.
  • Yet another characteristic of a systematic review is that it has a reproducible and explicit methodology.
  • It also helps in the evaluation of the authenticity of the incorporated discoveries and studies.
  • A systematic review contains a systematic synthesis and presentation of attributes and discoveries of the incorporated studies.

Doing Systematic Review: Step by Step

Detailed steps for conducting any systematic review are discussed as follows:-

Step 1 -To write a systematic review, you’ll need to formulate questions.

Before you begin your project, think about whether you need a systematic review. Is there a book on your subject that has previously been written?

While doing a systematic review it is important to understand the issues that one is trying to solve by doing a review. The problem for research should be presented as an unambiguous and structured question. There should be no alteration of the question as soon as the review process has commenced.

The protocol for review is required to be created surrounding the query. In this context, it is relevant to mention the PICO (population, intervention, comparison, and outcome) model. Apart from the PICO model, other models can be utilized instead of the PICO model.

The other models can function for qualitative, non-clinical, research questions that are based on social sciences.

Two instances of the PICO models are the SPICE (Setting, Perspective, Interventions, Comparisons, Evaluations) models and the ECLIPSE (Expectations, Client groups, Locations, Impacts, Professionals that are involved, Services and E represents nothing) models.

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Step 2- Developing protocols for systematic review

In the context of systematic reviews, protocols are very much important. The protocols are representative of methods that are utilized in doing reviews to reduce bias. Being transparent is important for a systematic review and hence while doing a review the protocol has to be stated lucidly.

The protocols require incorporating the following components:-

  • Criteria for inclusion or exclusion
  • Strategies for searching
  • Studying criteria for selections and processes
  • Extraction of data
  • Evaluation of all the study quality processes
  • Methods for doing a synthesis of data
  • Plans for doing result in discrimination

In this context, it is relevant to add that both the purpose of the review as well as the question components should be incorporated into a protocol while developing a protocol.

Step 3- Conducting searches

Yet another step for writing the systematic review is by conducting searches. The reviewer requires conducting searches to find the articles that are required for doing reviews.

The strategies of search are outlined within the protocol. As the protocol is established, you can start looking for your information and do some research while going about this task. It’s important to have a structured methodology when it comes to searching so that you don’t miss anything.

Step 4- The steps to do searches

Following are the steps to do searches:-

  • The reviewers need to define the topic or ask a query using the PICO model.
  • Next, identification of the concepts is very crucial.
  • The reviewers are required to search the concepts separately.
  • Sometimes it is necessary to combine different concept sets. Once the searching is done separately the concept searches are combined using AND.
  • The reviewers are required to modify searches and review results. After searching it is essential to review the outcomes. If the outcomes are general, irrelevant, or specific then a modified search is necessary.
  • The addition of filters or limits is required. The reviewers can limit the searches using filters (sidebar like date range, document type, and language).

Other steps to do searches

There are other steps that you can use while doing a comprehensive literature search. These include the use of the following:-

  • Keywords and subject heading
  • Proper strategies for doing searches
  • Maintaining a search log while working
  • Use citation management software when required. In this context, it is important to understand that such type of software is used in tracking the articles, categorising and organising the records, and sharing articles with other members of the system review teams.
  • The software is used to detect duplicate contents, it saves effort and time.

Two reviewers should be assigned to the task of screening studies. Make use of the criteria listed in your protocol. Titles and abstracts can be used for the first round of screening. The full-text publications for selected research should be reviewed in the second round of screening. Reviewers should maintain track of studies that were excluded, as well as the reason for their exclusion.

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Step 5- Selecting studies and evaluating the quality of study

This step of conducting a systematic review involves gathering the results, de-duplicating them, start screening and evaluating the studies. It is important to do the screening of studies. Secondly, the reviewer has to evaluate the quality of the studies that are remaining.

i.Screening Results

The screening involves two steps and they are discussed as follows:-

  • Doing the Title or abstract screening process involves doing a scan of the title as also the abstract to get rid of studies that are not about the topic.
  • Doing a test screening in full involves utilizing the exclusion or inclusion criteria in screening the studies (full-text).

ii. Evaluating Results

This step of evaluating results is important as far as systematic review writing is concerned.

  • While evaluating the studies for inclusion the reviewer is required to use the standard evaluation tools to help get rid of bias and ensure that the systemic review is better.
  • The items that are incorporated in the checklist depending on the types of studies that are incorporated.
  • The reviewer can utilize pre-defined checklists and for more in this regard visit relevant resources that are available on the web.
  • It is important to use the services of more than one individual to review the collected articles.
  • It is important to mention in the protocol the reviewer numbers. Also, it is important to understand how differences in reviewer selections are resolved.

Step 6- Extract Data

After finalizing the studies it is important to utilize data extraction forms or systematic reviewing software for extracting data from studies. It is recommended to extract the data first, analyze it, and later synthesize the results.

i. Data extraction

The following points are important so far as data extraction is concerned:-

  • More than one individual can do the data extraction and they can check for the existence of mismatches.
  • Then it is recommended to do the data recording as advised.

ii. Data analysis

This section of the blog discusses the data analysis and this is one important sub-step to complete a systematic review.

  • Data analysis depends on the type of data that has been extracted.
  • The process of Meta-analysis utilizes various statistical methods to create a summary of the results of studies.
  • It is recommended to do a Meta-analysis of screening results. This helps to improve the review quality and do conclusions.

Step 7- Interpreting results

The final step of the systematic review is interpreting the results. After interpretation, it’s recommended to circulate them. The interpretative phase includes writing a summary and conclusions about each study in your findings section – with one sentence for every major finding that you uncovered throughout the process of conducting your work – as well as addressing any questions or comments from readers at this stage. Other steps taken during this stage are according to need; however, if they don’t apply then there may be no other necessary steps than these mentioned above:

1) Writing up an executive summary (one paragraph). This should include what question(s)/problem was being addressed by the research? What were some potential solutions identified within previous studies on related topics? How did we conduct

Step 8- Present the results

As a systematic reviewer, you must present the findings. The following are the manners in which you can present the findings:-

  • Incorporate detailed methodologies that are based on the protocol that you are using. You as a reviewer require to use the search strategies as well as the criteria for selection.
  • Presenting results also incorporates ensuring that the review can be updated easily using new research discoveries.

Proposing the future steps

While presenting the results it is also vital in proposing the future steps:-

  • Guide policy-making and practice if there is adequate existence of quality evidence.
  • Point out future research options so that gaps in knowledge can be filled. Future research options are also helpful in strengthening the evidence body.

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What are the attributes of an effective systematic review?

This section of the blog highlights the important attributes of an effective systematic review and they are mentioned as follows:-

  • Comprehensive
  • Explicit
  • Systematic
  • Reproducible
  • Bias is minimized

It is important for the reviewer to make sure the review is comprehensive, explicit, systematic, and reproducible and if the bias has been minimized as these are the attributes of a good systematic review.

What are the good practices for doing a systematic review?

For doing a systematic review some good practices are required to be followed. This section of the blog features the good practices for doing a systematic review.

  • Adopt a standard for reporting
  • Utilizing a search log and keeping track of the searches.
  • Identify the resources that are used in doing the systematic review.
  • Use a citation management tool to manage the references.
  • Make a report of the searcher’s qualifications.
  • Yet another practice that is important for doing a systematic review is to do a visual presentation. Such a presentation can be done by studying an identification flowchart.

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