How To Write A Systematic Review

Creating a systematic review article involves several meticulous steps to ensure comprehensive and unbiased synthesis of existing research. Using PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses) guidelines helps enhance the transparency and quality of reporting. Below is a step-by-step guide on how to write a systematic review article following PRISMA guidelines:


Step 1: Formulate the Research Question

  • Identify a Specific Topic: Choose a clear, focused research question.
  • PICO Framework: Use the Population, Intervention, Comparison, Outcome (PICO) framework to structure the question.


Step 2: Develop a Protocol

  • Register the Protocol: Register your systematic review protocol in databases like PROSPERO.
  • Define Criteria: Establish inclusion and exclusion criteria for the studies.
  • Outline Methods: Describe the methodology for searching, screening, and analyzing the studies.


Step 3: Literature Search

  • Databases: Search multiple databases (e.g., PubMed, Cochrane Library, Scopus).
  • Search Strategy: Develop a comprehensive search strategy using keywords and Boolean operators.
  • Documentation: Record the search strategy for reproducibility.


Step 4: Screening and Selection

  • Import References: Use reference management software (e.g., EndNote, Zotero).
  • Remove Duplicates: Eliminate duplicate records.
  • Screen Titles and Abstracts: Two reviewers independently screen titles and abstracts against inclusion criteria.
  • Full-Text Screening: Review full-text articles for eligibility.
  • PRISMA Flow Diagram: Document the selection process using the PRISMA flow diagram.


Step 5: Data Extraction

  • Develop a Data Extraction Form: Include fields for study characteristics, participants, interventions, outcomes, and results.
  • Extract Data: Two reviewers independently extract data to minimize errors.
  • Resolve Discrepancies: Resolve any discrepancies through discussion or a third reviewer.


Step 6: Assess Risk of Bias

  • Quality Assessment Tools: Use appropriate tools (e.g., Cochrane Risk of Bias tool, ROBINS-I).
  • Assess Each Study: Evaluate the risk of bias for each included study.


Step 7: Data Synthesis

  • Qualitative Synthesis: Summarize the findings narratively if meta-analysis is not possible.
  • Quantitative Synthesis (Meta-Analysis): If feasible, statistically combine the results using meta-analysis.
  • Heterogeneity Assessment: Assess heterogeneity using I² statistic.
  • Publication Bias: Evaluate publication bias using funnel plots or Egger’s test.


Step 8: Report the Review

Follow PRISMA Checklist: Ensure all sections adhere to the PRISMA checklist.

  • Title: Indicate that the article is a systematic review.
  • Abstract: Provide a structured summary.
  • Introduction: State the rationale and objectives.
  • Methods: Describe the search strategy, selection criteria, and data extraction methods.
  • Results: Present the results with the PRISMA flow diagram and data synthesis.
  • Discussion: Interpret the findings, discuss limitations, and suggest implications.
  • Conclusion: Summarize the main findings and their relevance.
  • Tables and Figures: Include tables and figures to present data clearly.


Step 9: Peer Review and Revision

  • Submit to Journal: Choose an appropriate journal and submit your manuscript.
  • Respond to Reviewers: Address feedback from peer reviewers and make necessary revisions.


Step 10: Publication

  • Finalize Manuscript: Ensure all PRISMA guidelines are met before final submission.
  • Publish: Upon acceptance, the systematic review will be published, contributing to the body of knowledge in your field.


Additional Tips:

  • Stay Organized: Keep detailed records of all steps and decisions.
  • Collaborate: Work with co-authors and experts to enhance the review’s quality.
  • Keep Up-to-Date: Stay informed about updates to PRISMA guidelines and best practices in systematic reviews.
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