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Research Guides

Systematic Reviews Service

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Educational Psychology and
Teaching, Learning, & Culture
Educational Administration and
Human Resource Development

Diana Ramirez

Ashlynn Kogut

Daniel Xiao

What a librarian can do for you

  • Provide guidance on research syntheses methodologies, including standards and guidelines
  • Advise on database selection
  • Assist in the construction of database searches and translation to other databases, including the identification of keywords and subject terms
  • Explain how to use software tools to facilitate the management and screening of citations

What is a Systematic Review?

A systematic review is a research method that is designed to answer a research question(s) by identifying, coding, appraising, and synthesizing a group of studies investigating the same question(s). This method is utilized in disciplines such as education, behavioral and social sciences, medicine, public health, and others to answer a variety of questions: effectiveness of an intervention or policy, prevalence, tests/diagnosis, and more.

Steps of a Systematic Review (PIECES)

P: Plan - Decide on the methods of the systematic review before conducting it.

  • Use Campbell Collaboration (MECCIR) Conduct Standards and Searching for Studies: A Guide to Information Retrieval for Campbell Systematic Reviews (Feb 2017) as guides.
  • Identify search terms, including keywords, synonyms, and subject headings to search selected databases.
  • Perform scoping searches in selected databases (to find background literature that may help you refine your research question and set inclusion/exclusion criteria).
  • Set inclusion/exclusion criteria (such as specific aspects of a population; types of interventions, outcomes, and study designs; and limiters such as publication date range and language.

I: Identify - Systematically search for studies using predetermined criteria.

  • Finalize selection of databases to search.
  • Design a search strategy using subject headings, keywords, Boolean operators, and/or proximity operators for each database.
  • Export results from each database into a citation management program such as RefWorks or EndNote.
  • Remove duplicate citations using the citation management program, save remaining citations as an RIS file, then import the RIS file into Rayyan.
  • Document the process using PRISMA flow diagram. See also: PRISMA Flow Diagram Generator.

E: Evaluate - Sort all retrieved articles into included or excluded categories; then assess the risk of bias for each included study.

  • First screening (use exclusion criteria to exclude studies): Sort (screen) studies in Rayyan - based on article title and abstract - and mark as exclude, include, or undecided. McGill University Library has a very helpful guide: Rayyan for Systematic Reviews. For additional assistance, please contact TAMU librarians  - not the McGill librarians.
  • Second screening (use inclusion criteria to include studies): Load PDFs into Rayyan for studies marked as include and undecided; then mark as include or exclude based on screening of the full text. 
  • Assess quality of included studies. Example quality criteria are available in Standard Quality Assessment Criteria for Evaluating Primary Research Papers from a Variety of Fields.

C: Collect/Combine - Create a coding form to capture study characteristics; then synthesize data qualitatively or quantitatively.

  • Use Google Forms or other software to create a coding form.

E: Explain - Contextualize synthesis results, noting strengths and weaknesses of the studies.

S: Summarize - Report or describe methods and results in a clear and transparent manner.

Standards & Guidelines

Database Searching

The Campbell Collaboration's Conduct Standards recommend that researchers search "as extensive as possible to reduce the risk of publication bias and to identify as much relevant evidence as possible." For education reviews, this means searching ERIC as well as additional databases. For psychology reviews, this means searching PsycINFO as well as additional databases.

For assistance in selecting databases, you can contact your education librarian.

Software Tools

Citation Management Tools