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Systematic Review Service  

UC San Diego Library’s Systematic Review Support Service is a program to support researchers in performing high quality systematic reviews. We advise and partner with research teams to conduct comprehensive searches of the health and clinical literature.

The information below will answer some of the most common questions about a systematic review and our service.  We also have an online guide to go more in-depth on the systematic review process.  If you would like to contact us about getting started with your systematic review, please fill out our online form.

What is a Systematic Review?

What is a systematic review?

A systematic review is a comprehensive review of the literature with a transparent and reproducible methodology designed to answer a specific and well defined question to identify, select, assess, and summarize the findings of similar but separate studies.  The characteristics and methods have been well spelled out by several international organizations and you can learn more about them on Systematic Review guide


Is a systematic review right for me?

Depending upon the question you have, there may be other types that fit your project better than a systematic review. Check out the article, A typology of reviews: an analysis of 14 review types and associated methodologies by Grant & Booth to get a better understanding of types and methods for each. 

The Systematic Review Service team members can help you figure out the best type for your question or project. Request our assistance via our online form.

How long does a systematic review take?

An important assessment to complete at the beginning of your project is to determine if you have the time and resources required.  

How long do systematic reviews usually take to complete?

Systematic reviews are often more complex than many researchers realize and so they underestimate the time involved with doing a systematic review.  A realistic expectation would be 6 to 12 months, and perhaps longer, depending upon your team. 

How long should we plan to spend searching the literature?  

A comprehensive search uses multiple databases to find the articles needed plus it searches the grey literature sources (clinical trial repositories, conference proceedings, unpublished literature, etc.).  You can expect hundreds if not thousands of results from all of these sources. Most guidelines suggest the search protocol can take 1 - 5 months of development for a robust systematic review.

What do we need?

For a systematic review you will need a team to help do the review.  You will also need a well-defined question (see the "how do we start" section below for more details), and a way to manage your data (see our section below about technology).

What kind of team do we need?  

You will need at least 3 people for a systematic review: two members will independently review the articles with the 3rd available to resolve a difference of opinion.  This dual-review process continues through the article review stage through to the quality assessment (risk of bias assessment) to the data extraction stage. 

Team member roles include a project manager, a subject matter specialist, and an informationist or search specialist.  You may need additional members to complete the review.

How can the Library help my team?

The Library can support you in the following ways:

  • Instruction on systematic searching
  • Guidance on using search standards and guidelines 
  • Advisement on database and evidence source selection 
  • Guidance on search strategy formulation
  • Guidance on avoiding duplication of prior systematic reviews
Librarians will consult with your team and advise on areas as defined above. Because sytematic reviews are a time-intensive team processes that may take a year or longer, our team of librarians can only support a limited number of reviews at any given time.

Who is eligible for this service?

We prioritize services to:

  • UC San Diego Health & Health Sciences faculty and clinicians
  • UC San Diego Health & Health Sciences staff
  • UC San Diego students

However, all UC San Diego faculty, staff and students are welcome to contact us and request our assistance.

The service is provided at no cost to the researcher. Time restrictions may impact level of service and response time.

When can we get started?

We have several librarians who are dedicating part of their time to the service. Our anticipated timeline is:

  • After your initial request, we will reply and set up an initial consultation within 1 - 2 weeks.  Consultations are usually 60 minutes and follow-up consultations (in person, via email, Zoom or phone) are usually needed.

  • As we work with your team keep in mind that formulating the protocol, both the search strategy and the inclusion and exclusion criteria, can take several weeks up to 5 months for search protocol development (Cochrane).

Contact us via our online form to request our assistance with your systematic review.

How do we start?

Here are things to consider as you begin your systematic review; get a printable checklist of these.  

  • Define your topic. 
    Have you fully defined your question?  Have you identified some key terms and synonyms?  Have you considered using PICO to structure your search?
  • Double check your topic in systematic review tracking sources.
    • To find published systematic reviews, search PubMed and add systematic[sb] after your search terms.  If you find one exactly on your topic, is it recent or ready for an update?
    • Check the systematic review protocol registration site. PROSPERO, to find any planned systematic reviews on your topic.
  • Form your team. 
    You will need at least 3 people to conduct a systematic review, with the requisite expertise.  Possible team roles include:
    • Project manager
    • Content expert
    • Statistical expert
    • Search expert
  • Devise your timeline.  
    Cochrane advises at least 12 months from conception to submission, and current literature suggests 15-16 months is the average timeline.  
  • Choose the tools you will use.
    Possible tools include citation mangers (e.g., EndNote, Mendeley, Zotero) and systematic review tools (e.g., Covidence, Distiller SR, Rayyan).  Details on these are below.
  • Learn more.
    The PRISMA Checklist outlines the various steps in the process and may be helpful to your planning.  Find more information at our online guide on systematic reviews.
Ready to contact the UC San Diego Library Systematic Review Service group?  Use our online form to get started. 

What technology in support of systematic reviews should we consider?

Managing the systematic review process

There are several online tools to help you manage the systematic review process.  Some require a subscription and some are free to use. The Library does not currently have a subscription to any of these tools.

  • Covidence - can help throughout the process of ingesting articles, removing duplicates, collaborative screening, article assessment and data extraction.  Requires a subscription.

  • DistillerSR - highly used platform that can help throughout the entire process just like Covidence.  Requires a subscription. 

  • Rayyan - can help with the article reviewing portion (title & abstract and then full-text review).  It does not find duplicates or support assessment and data extraction yet, so another method for that is needed.  It has some interesting options. This tool is free for everyone to use.

Citation management tools

Citation management tools can also help manage the articles retrieved for your systematic review and can be used in conjunction with the systematic review tools mentioned above.  Some are free while others require a subscription. The tools you might consider using are:

  • EndNote desktop - you can create multiple libraries for different projects. Purchase at the UC San Diego bookstore for about $80.

  • Mendeley - offers one library per email address, so different projects will need to be organized into folders or groups.  Limited number of groups for the free account. Free unless your citations and full-text attachments are more than 2 GB.  

  • - offers one library per email address, so different projects will need to be organized into folders or groups.  You can create as many groups as you need. Free unless your citations and full-text attachments are more than 300 MB.  If more space is needed, inexpensive subscriptions are available.

Where can we go to learn more?

Guidance on conducting a systematic review 

Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions

Guidebook by Cochrane

Finding What Works in Health Care: Standards for Systematic Reviews

Guidebook by the National Academy of Medicine

Methods Guide for Effectiveness and Comparative Effectiveness Reviews

Guidance from AHRQ

Systematic Reviews: CRD’s Guidance for Undertaking Reviews in Health Care

Guidebook by the Centre for Reviews and Dissemination, University of York

Introduction to Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

A free online course through Johns Hopkins University


Guidance on systematically searching the literature

Systematic Review Library Guide

UC San Diego Library's guide to systematic review resources and services

Search for Evidence in a Systematic Review

A guide on the systematic search process (MS Word document)

Advanced Literature Searching in the Health Sciences

A free online course through the University of Michigan

Can someone come to my class or meet with my team?

If you are an instructor and would like a librarian to come to your class or have a small group wanting to know more about systematic reviews fill out our online form.  We will work with you to create a customized session to meet the needs of your group.
This page has an easy to remember link: