Skip to Main Content

Systematic Reviews: Types of literature review, methods, & resources

By Paul Levett

Analytical reviews


Enhancing the QUAlity and Transparency Of health Research (EQUATOR) network. (Tracking and listing over 550 reporting guidelines for various different study types including Randomised trials, Systematic reviews, Study protocols, Diagnostic/prognostic studies, Case reports, Clinical practice guidelines, Animal pre-clinical studies, etc).

When comparing therapies:

PRISMA (Guideline on how to perform and write-up a systematic review and/or meta-analysis of the outcomes reported in multiple clinical trials of therapeutic interventions. PRISMA replaces the previous QUORUM statement guidelines): Liberati, A,, Altman, D,, Moher, D, et al. (2009). The PRISMA statement for reporting systematic reviews and meta-analyses of studies that evaluate health care interventions: explanation and elaboration. Plos Medicine, 6(7):e1000100. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000100 

When comparing diagnostic methods:

Checklist for Artificial Intelligence in Medical Imaging (CLAIM). CLAIM is modeled after the STARD guideline and has been extended to address applications of AI in medical imaging that include classification, image reconstruction, text analysis, and workflow optimization. The elements described here should be viewed as a “best practice” to guide authors in presenting their research. Reported in Mongan, J., Moy, L., & Kahn, C. E., Jr (2020). Checklist for Artificial Intelligence in Medical Imaging (CLAIM): A Guide for Authors and Reviewers. Radiology. Artificial intelligence2(2), e200029.

STAndards for the Reporting of Diagnostic accuracy studies (STARD) Statement. (Reporting guidelines for writing up a study comparing the accuracy of competing diagnostic methods)

When evaluating clinical practice guidelines:

AGREE Research Trust (ART) (2013). Appraisal of Guidelines for Research & Evaluation (AGREE-II). (A 23-item instrument for assessing the quality of Clinical Practice Guidelines. Used internationally for evaluating or deciding which guidelines could be recommended for use in practice or to inform health policy decisions.)

National Guideline Clearinghouse Extent of Adherence to Trustworthy Standards (NEATS) Instrument (2019). (A 15-item instrument using scales of 1-5 to evaluate a guideline's adherence to the Institute of Medicine's standard for trustworthy guidelines. It has good external validity among guideline developers and good interrater reliability across trained reviewers.)

When reviewing genetics studies

Human genetics review reporting guidelines. Little J, Higgins JPT (eds.). The HuGENet™ HuGE Review Handbook, version 1.0

When you need to re-analyze individual participant data

If you wish to collect, check, and re-analyze individual participant data (IPD) from clinical trials addressing a particular research question, you should follow the PRISMA-IPD guidelines as reported in Stewart, L.A., Clarke, M., Rovers, M., et al. (2015). Preferred Reporting Items for a Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Individual Participant Data: The PRISMA-IPD Statement. JAMA, 313(16):1657-1665. doi:10.1001/jama.2015.3656.

When comparing Randomized studies involving animals, livestock, or food:

O’Connor AM, et al. (2010). The REFLECT statement: methods and processes of creating reporting guidelines for randomized controlled trials for livestock and food safety by modifying the CONSORT statement. Zoonoses Public Health. 57(2):95-104. Epub 2010/01/15. doi: 10.1111/j.1863-2378.2009.01311.x. PubMed PMID: 20070653.

Sargeant JM, et al. (2010). The REFLECT Statement: Reporting Guidelines for Randomized Controlled Trials in Livestock and Food Safety: Explanation and Elaboration. Zoonoses Public Health. 57(2):105-36. Epub 2010/01/15. doi: JVB1312 [pii] 10.1111/j.1863-2378.2009.01312.x. PubMed PMID: 20070652.


When reporting the results of a Randomized Controlled Trial:

Consolidated Standards of Reporting Trials (CONSORT) Statement. (2010 reporting guideline for writing up a Randomized Controlled Clinical Trial). Since updated in 2022, see Butcher, M. A., et al. (2022). Guidelines for Reporting Outcomes in Trial Reports: The CONSORT-Outcomes 2022 Extension. JAMA : the Journal of the American Medical Association, 328(22), 2252–2264.

Kilkenny, C., Browne, W. J., Cuthill, I. C., Emerson, M., & Altman, D. G. (2010). Improving bioscience research reporting: The ARRIVE guidelines for reporting animal research. PLoS Biology, 8(6), e1000412–e1000412. (A 20-item checklist, following the CONSORT approach, listing the information that published articles reporting research using animals should include, such as the number and specific characteristics of animals used; details of housing and husbandry; and the experimental, statistical, and analytical methods used to reduce bias.)

Narrative reviews


Campbell, M. (2020). Synthesis without meta-analysis (SWiM) in systematic reviews: reporting guideline. BMJ, 368. doi: (guideline on how to analyse evidence for a narrative review, to provide a recommendation based on heterogenous study types).

Community Preventive Services Task Force (2021). The Methods Manual for Community Guide Systematic Reviews. (Public Health Prevention systematic review guidelines)

Enhancing the QUAlity and Transparency Of health Research (EQUATOR) network. (Tracking and listing over 550 reporting guidelines for various different study types including Observational studies, Qualitative research, Quality improvement studies, and Economic evaluations).

Cochrane Qualitative & Implementation Methods Group. (2019). Training resources. Retrieved from (Training materials for how to do a meta-synthesis, or qualitative evidence synthesis). 

Cornell University Library (2019). Planning worksheet for structured literature reviews. Retrieved 4/8/22 from (offers a framework for a narrative literature review).

Green, B. N., Johnson, C. D., & Adams, A. (2006). Writing narrative literature reviews for peer-reviewed journals: secrets of the trade. Journal of Chiropractic Medicine, 5(3): 101-117. DOI: 10.1016/S0899-3467(07)60142-6.  This is a very good article about what to take into consideration when writing any type of narrative review.

When reviewing observational studies/qualitative research:

STrengthening the Reporting of OBservational studies in Epidemiology (STROBE) statement. (Reporting guidelines for various types of health sciences observational studies). 

Meta-analysis of Observational Studies in Epidemiology (MOOSE)

RATS Qualitative research systematic review guidelines.


Right Review, this decision support website provides an algorithm to help reviewers choose a review methodology from among 41 knowledge synthesis methods.

The Systematic Review Toolbox, an online catalogue of tools that support various tasks within the systematic review and wider evidence synthesis process. Maintained by the UK University of York Health Economics Consortium, Newcastle University NIHR Innovation Observatory, and University of Sheffield School of Health and Related Research.

Institute of Medicine. (2011). Finding What Works in Health Care: Standards for Systematic Reviews. Washington, DC: National Academies (Systematic review guidelines from the Health and Medicine Division (HMD) of the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (formerly called the Institute of Medicine)).

International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (2022). Recommendations for the Conduct, Reporting, Editing, and Publication of Scholarly work in Medical Journals. Guidance on how to prepare a manuscript for submission to a Medical journal.

Cochrane Handbook of Systematic Reviews of Interventions (International Cochrane Collaboration systematic review guidelines). The various Cochrane review groups comporise around 30,000 physicians around the world working in the disciplines on reviews of interventions with very detailed methods for verifying the validity of the research methods and analysis performed in screened-in Randmized Controlled Clinical Trials. Typically published Cochrane Reviews are the most exhaustive review of the evidence of effectiveness of a particular drug or intervention, and include a statistical meta-analysis. Similar to practice guidelines, Cochrane reviews are periodically revised and updated.

Joanna Briggs Institute (JBI) Manual of Evidence Synthesis. (International systematic review guidelines). Based at the University of Adelaide, South Australia, and collaborating with around 80 academic and medical entities around the world. Unlike Cochrane Reviews that strictly focus on efficacy of interventions, JBI offers a broader, inclusive approach to evidence, to accommodate a range of diverse questions and study designs. The JBI manual provides guidance on how to analyse and include both quantitative and qualitative research.

Cochrane Methods Support Unit, webinar recordings on methodological support questions 

Cochrane Qualitative & Implementation Methods Group. (2019). Training resources. Retrieved from (How to do a meta-synthesis, or qualitative evidence synthesis). 

Center for Reviews and Dissemination (University of York, England) (2009). Systematic Reviews: CRD's guidance for undertaking systematic reviews in health care. (British systematic review guidelines). 

Agency for Health Research & Quality (AHRQ) (2013). Methods guide for effectiveness and comparative effectiveness reviews. (U.S. comparative effectiveness review guidelines)

Hunter, K. E., et al. (2022). Searching clinical trials registers: guide for systematic reviewers. BMJ (Clinical research ed.)377, e068791.

Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI). The PCORI Methodology Report. (A 47-item methodology checklist for U.S. patient-centered outcomes research. Established under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, PCORI funds the development of guidance on the comparative effectivess of clinical healthcare, similar to the UK National Institute for Clinical Evidence but without reporting cost-effectiveness QALY metrics). 

Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health (CADTH) (2019). Grey Matters: a practical tool for searching health-related grey literature. Retrieved from A checklist of N American & international online databases and websites you can use to search for unpublished reports, posters, and policy briefs, on topics including general medicine and nursing, public and mental health, health technology assessment, drug and device regulatory, approvals, warnings, and advisories.

Hempel, S., Xenakis, L., & Danz, M. (2016). Systematic Reviews for Occupational Safety and Health Questions: Resources for Evidence Synthesis. Retrieved 8/15/16 from NIOSH guidelines for how to carry out a systematic review in the occupational safety and health domain.

A good source for reporting guidelines is the NLM's Research Reporting Guidelines and Initiatives.

Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation (GRADE). (An international group of academics/clinicians working to promote a common approach to grading the quality of evidence and strength of recommendations.) 

Phillips, B., Ball, C., Sackett, D., et al. (2009). Oxford Centre for Evidence Based Medicine: Levels of Evidence. Retrieved 3/20/17 from (Another commonly used criteria for grading the quality of evidence and strength of recommendations, developed in part by EBM guru David Sackett.) 

Systematic Reviews for Animals & Food (guidelines including the REFLECT statement for carrying out a systematic review on animal health, animal welfare, food safety, livestock, and agriculture)

Grant, M. J., & Booth, A. (2009). A typology of reviews: an analysis of 14 review types and associated methodologies. Health Information & Libraries Journal, 26(2), 91-108. doi:10.1111/j.1471-1842.2009.00848.x. (Describes 14 different types of literature and systematic review, useful for thinking at the outset about what sort of literature review you want to do.)

Sutton, A., Clowes, M., Preston, L., & Booth, A. (2019). Meeting the review family: exploring review types and associated information retrieval requirements. Health information and libraries journal, 36(3), 202–222. doi:10.1111/hir.12276  (An updated look at different types of literature review, expands on the Grant & Booth 2009 article listed above).

Garrard, J. (2007). Health Sciences Literature Review Made Easy: The Matrix Method (2nd Ed.).  Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett Publishers. (Textbook of health sciences literature search methods).

Zilberberg, M. (2012). Between the lines: Finding the truth in medical literature. Goshen, MA: Evimed Research Press. (Concise book on foundational concepts of evidence-based medicine).

Lang, T. (2009). The Value of Systematic Reviews as Research Activities in Medical Education. In: Lang, T. How to write, publish, & present in the health sciences : a guide for clinicians & laboratory researchers. Philadelphia : American College of Physicians.  (This book chapter has a helpful bibliography on systematic review and meta-analysis methods)

Brown, S., Martin, E., Garcia, T., Winter, M., García, A., Brown, A., Cuevas H., & Sumlin, L. (2013). Managing complex research datasets using electronic tools: a meta-analysis exemplar. Computers, Informatics, Nursing: CIN, 31(6), 257-265. doi:10.1097/NXN.0b013e318295e69c. (This article advocates for the programming of electronic fillable forms in Adobe Acrobat Pro to feed data into Excel or SPSS for analysis, and to use cloud based file sharing systems such as Blackboard, RefWorks, or EverNote to facilitate sharing knowledge about the decision-making process and keep data secure. Of particular note are the flowchart describing this process, and their example screening form used for the initial screening of abstracts).

Brown, S., Upchurch, S., & Acton, G. (2003). A framework for developing a coding scheme for meta-analysis. Western Journal Of Nursing Research, 25(2), 205-222. (This article describes the process of how to design a coded data extraction form and codebook, Table 1 is an example of a coded data extraction form that can then be used to program a fillable form in Adobe Acrobat or Microsoft Access).

Elamin, M. B., Flynn, D. N., Bassler, D., Briel, M., Alonso-Coello, P., Karanicolas, P., & ... Montori, V. M. (2009). Choice of data extraction tools for systematic reviews depends on resources and review complexityJournal Of Clinical Epidemiology62(5), 506-510. doi:10.1016/j.jclinepi.2008.10.016  (This article offers advice on how to decide what tools to use to extract data for analytical systematic reviews).

Riegelman R.  Studying a Study and Testing a Test: Reading Evidence-based Health Research, 6th Edition.  Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2012. (Textbook of quantitative statistical methods used in health sciences research).

Rathbone, J., Hoffmann, T., & Glasziou, P. (2015). Faster title and abstract screening? Evaluating Abstrackr, a semi-automated online screening program for systematic reviewers. Systematic Reviews, 480. doi:10.1186/s13643-015-0067-6

Guyatt, G., Rennie, D., Meade, M., & Cook, D. (2015). Users' guides to the medical literature (3rd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill Education Medical.  (This is a foundational textbook on evidence-based medicine and of particular use to the reviewer who wants to learn about the different types of published research article e.g. "what is a case report?" and to understand what types of study design best answer what types of clinical question).

Glanville, J., Duffy, S., Mccool, R., & Varley, D. (2014). Searching and the International Clinical Trials Registry Platform to inform systematic reviews: what are the optimal search approaches? Journal of the Medical Library Association : JMLA, 102(3), 177–183.

Ouzzani, M., Hammady, H., Fedorowicz, Z., & Elmagarmid, A. (2016). Rayyan a web and mobile app for systematic reviews. Systematic Reviews, 5: 210, DOI: 10.1186/s13643-016-0384-4.

Kwon Y, Lemieux M, McTavish J, Wathen N. (2015). Identifying and removing duplicate records from systematic review searches. J Med Libr Assoc. 103(4): 184-8. doi: 10.3163/1536-5050.103.4.004.

Bramer WM, Giustini D, de Jonge GB, Holland L, Bekhuis T. (2016). De-duplication of database search results for systematic reviews in EndNote. J Med Libr Assoc. 104(3):240-3. doi: 10.3163/1536-5050.104.3.014. Erratum in: J Med Libr Assoc. 2017 Jan;105(1):111.

McGowan J, Sampson M, Salzwedel DM, Cogo E, Foerster V, Lefebvre C. PRESS Peer Review of Electronic Search Strategies: 2015 Guideline Statement. J Clin Epidemiol. 2016;75:40–46. doi:10.1016/j.jclinepi.2016.01.021. PRESS is a guideline with a checklist for librarians to critically appraise the search strategy for a systematic review literature search.

Clark, JM, Sanders, S, Carter, M, Honeyman, D, Cleo, G, Auld, Y, Booth, D, Condron, P, Dalais, C, Bateup, S, Linthwaite, B, May, N, Munn, J, Ramsay, L, Rickett, K, Rutter, C, Smith, A, Sondergeld, P, Wallin, M, Jones, M & Beller, E 2020, 'Improving the translation of search strategies using the Polyglot Search Translator: a randomized controlled trial', Journal of the Medical Library Association, vol. 108, no. 2, pp. 195-207.

Journal articles describing systematic review methods can be searched for in PubMed using this search string in the PubMed search box: sysrev_methods [sb]

Software tools for systematic reviews

GW researchers may want to consider using Refworks to manage citations, and GW Box to store the full text PDF's of review articles. You can also use online survey forms such as Qualtrics, RedCAP, or Survey Monkey, to design and create your own coded fillable forms, and export the data to Excel or one of the qualitative analytical software tools listed above.

Forest Plot Generators