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Critical Appraisal of Research Articles: Systematic Reviews

What is a Systematic Review?

A systematic review is a review of a clearly formulated queston that uses systematic and explicit methods to identify, select, and critically appraise relevant research, and to collect and analyze data from studies that are included in the review. Statistical methods may or may not be used to analyze and summarize the results of the included studies.

How to Find Systematic Reviews

1. Search the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews

2.  Use PubMed Clinical Queries.  Alternatively, when running a search in PubMed, go to the "Limits" page, and select "Systematic Review" under "Subsets" limit.

3. If searching CINAHL, limit by publication type (select "Systematic Review").

Questions to Ask

  1. Is it a systematic review of the right type of studies which are relevant to your question?
  2. Does the methods section describe how all the relevant trials were found and assessed?   The paper should give a comprehensive account of the sources consulted in the search for relevant papers, the search strategy used to find them, and the quality and relevance criteria used to decide whether to include them in the review.
  • Regarding the search strategy, consider:
    • The authors should include hand searching of journals and searching for unpublished literature.
    • Were any obvious databases missed?
    • Did the authors check the reference lists of articles and textbooks?
    • Did they contact experts (to get their list of references checked for completeness and to try to find out about ongoing or unpublished research)?
    • Did they use an appropriate search strategy; were important subject terms missed?
  • What criteria were used to extract data from the studies? Consider:
    • Who were the study participants and how is their disease status defined?
    • What intervention(s) were given, how, and in what setting?
    • How were outcomes assessed?

      3.   Are the studies consistent, both clinically and statistically?

      4.   Compare with PRISMA

  • Look at the most recent PRISMA checklist to see how well the authors documented the various preferred reporting items.

Appraisal Checklists for Systematic Reviews

Subject Guide

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Thomas Harrod
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