In order to conduct a robust systematic review, you need to be sure how your information resources work.
Have a look at your subject guide if you are unfamiliar with the range of resources available for your research area. This gathers the most commonly used resources for each subject on one page. You may also want to look at other subject pages if your research area spans across multiple disciplines.
Different database platforms have different levels of functionality. The Exploring Health Sciences Platforms booklet gives an overview of each of the major health sciences platforms. You will become more familiar with the workings of the databases the more you use them.
If you are new to Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) the booklet, Making a MeSH of Things, explains how MeSH can help you develop your early scoping searches.
To help you think about your early search plans, the Getting Started With Your Systematic Review Guide gives you a few basic starting points which may help you find your route – or routes forward. This can be used in addition to the other resources on this guide.
In order to structure the initial research some people find it useful to use structured frameworks. These are not compulsory nor are they set in stone. They are designed to help you formulate your research; you do not have to structure your research to fit into any the frameworks.
These three frameworks all have similar categories:
When you are selecting articles, it is useful to have a criteria or checklist you want your articles to adhere to. This does not have to be overly complicated. This Evaluating Articles table is very simple and the questions give you a quick analysis of the usefulness of your resource.
In addition to this table, you may find the Essay and Information Inventory Plan useful too, particularly if you are new to research. The tables are designed to help you think about what you are reading, why you are reading it and how you are reading.
When embarking on a systematic review you need to be clear of your objectives. You will need to carefully consider the parameters of the research before you start, including scope and timespan.
Systematic reviews are primarily evidence-based pieces of research that methodically compare research in an unbiased manner so that the ultimate conclusions stand up in accordance to the evidence presented. Years ago, medical research was not as robust as it is now; the method often involved a group of medical specialists coming together in an unregulated capacity and arriving at a set of conclusions that were subsequently documented circulated by one of the group. Follow ups and updates were somewhat haphazard.
Research is now far more structured and controlled. Whether a new study or a review of earlier thinking, systematic reviews are measured against a set of specific criteria outlined at the start.
The ISRCTN registry is a primary clinical trial registry recognised by WHO and ICMJE that accepts all clinical research studies (whether proposed, ongoing or completed), providing content validation and curation and the unique identification number necessary for publication. All study records in the database are freely accessible and searchable.