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Systematic Review

Systematic Reviews are an increasingly important publication type for making informed health policy and patient care decisions. They are labor intensive, but synthesize and summarize existing information.

Get Started

Please note: We are currently only able to provide the "Consultation" level of service listed below. This includes a 1 - hour consultation to provide guidance for your search strategy. Thank you for your understanding while we are actively recruiting to fill multiple vacancies as a result of recent retirements.

Before scheduling a consultation, we strongly encourage you to review this guide, especially if you are new to systematic reviews. To get started, contact us with the following information:

  • What question are you trying to answer with your systematic/scoping review?
  • Please share 3-5 examples of articles you anticipate will be included in your review. 

Assistance from UCSF Library

Our Systematic Review service is designed to empower the UCSF community to conduct high-quality systematic reviews by providing education about process, standards, guidelines, and best practice around systematic reviews. 

UCSF students doing a systematic review as part of a course assignment: 

What you can expect from a librarian: 

What you can expect to do throughout the process: 

Resources available to you anytime: 

  • One-hour consultation and one follow-up session as needed        
  • Review the Systematic Review Guide to learn about what a systematic review is and how to get started.  

  • Provide information on review questions, purposes, background/significance and at least 3 most relevant articles 

  • Provide information on the School/course title, faculty/advisors and timeline 

  • FAQs 

  • This Systematic Review Guide – resources to support you from start to finish. 


All UCSF Faculty, Staff, and Students doing a systematic review, outside of course assignments: 

To get started, review the Systematic Review Guide to fill out the Systematic Review Consultation Request form. A librarian will follow up with you to schedule a consultation meeting or to ask any additional questions.  

Service Level Category Examples of what you can expect from a librarian: What your team can expect to do: Resources available to you:
Consultation (1 - 3 hours of librarian time)
  • Guidance on the process, standards and best practices of conducting a systematic review  

  • Advice on identifying appropriate review methodology (scoping vs systematic review) and review question frameworks  

  • Advice on formulating a research question, defining inclusion/exclusion criteria, and registering a review protocol  

  • Recommendations about databases, grey literature resources, and citation management software 

  • Instructions for searching relevant databases and suggest edits for existing search strategies 

  • Training on the process of de-duplication and full-text pdf retrieval  

  • Advice on the use of article screening software and methodology for article screening, critical appraisal, and data extraction 

  • Identification of potential journals to publish your review 

  • Review the Systematic Review Guide to learn about what a systematic review is and how to get started.  

  • Provide information on review questions, purposes, background/significance and at least 5 relevant articles 

  • Provide information on your team and timeline  

  • Confirm there are no ongoing or published systematic reviews on your topic and there are enough published articles on your topic to conduct a review 

  • Provide information about search specifications, including inclusion/exclusion criteria  

  • Determine if a grey literature search is necessary.  

  • FAQs 

  • This Systematic Review Guide – resources to support you from start to finish. 

Collaboration: Librarian as Co-Author 

Steps included in Consultation as well as: 

  • Work with you to create comprehensive search strategies for identified databases 

  • Perform comprehensive searches for all databases and grey literature as needed. Export citations to a reference management software 

  • Update searches before submission for publication 

  • Write a portion of the methods section specific to searching, including all search strategies as an appendix 

Steps included in Consultation as well as: 

  • Share a draft PROSPERO form

  • Identify a list of target journals 

  • Think about mock-ups for planned tables 

  • Work collaboratively with a librarian to create search strategies by providing key concepts of review question and synonyms for each concept and testing search strategies for sensitivity and precision 

  • Confirm librarian authorship on review and any future publications/presentations 

An online space for organizing information & documentation related to the review, such as Box. 


Types of Searches

Literature Review –  

  • Searches for background information on which to base research or to use when writing a paper for a class. 
  • Is usually less extensive and rigorous than a systematic or scoping review. 
  • Characterized by:  
    • One or more sources is searched. 
    • The search is completed using synonyms and punctuation. 
    • The articles are selected by the researcher or student alone. 
    • No formal protocol is written.  
  • A librarian is involved only to help the searcher develop their search and identify resources. 

Scoping Review or Systematic Review –  

  • Search for information in 3 or more databases using a complex, comprehensive search strategy. 
  • Information from sources that are not traditional journal articles may be included (AKA grey literature). 
  • Articles are selected for analysis by a rigorous two-step process using 2 or more independent reviewers. 
  • May include a quantitative analysis (AKA meta-analysis). 
  • The entire process may take 6-18 months.  
  • Librarians are often included as authors due to their deep and extensive involvement in the project. 

Other types of search questions –  

  • Less complex.  
  • Librarian expertise helps with fine points of search construction, selecting appropriated resources to search.  
  • Involvement of the librarian is short-lived and focused on the specific question(s) of the searcher.