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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.

Planning the Method

Articles are usually selected for inclusion and exclusion in a two-step process.

To avoid bias, two investigators independently vote and review each article. Disagreements are discussed and in those cases where opinion is split, the decision to retain or reject an article is done per the protocol the SR team has created already.

  1. The first step is selection based on title and abstract review. Often the large majority of search findings is rejected at this step.
  2. The second step looks at articles retained after the first step. Full text of articles is obtained. Using inclusion and exclusion criteria from the protocol a final set of articles is chosen to be included in analysis.

There are a number of ways of doing this, but most involve software in addition to the reference manager. Excel, database programs, and purpose-built software are used for these steps. Examples of the latter are DistillerSR, Eppi Reviewer, RevMan, Sumari, and others. We have been impressed with Covidence of late. The first two in the list cost money, RevMan is from Cochrane and works best in that system, Sumari is from JBI and works best in that system. Covidence has proven easy to use, they have introduced a pay model in 2016, but there is still a free option. See here: for details.

Software for article screening and data abstraction

One source of excellent Excel templates for Systematic Review record-keeping is:

Database software can be used to organize your systematic review as well. Also see these examples of purpose built software:

Program Cost Notes


Includes 3 reviews per year with unlimited team size.

Free limited option - 1 review per year for 2 reviewers.

User friendly interface. New and developing tool.

$30/month for students

$4500/6 months for 5 users

User friendly. Well known.

$15/month - single user

$765 - 5 users on same review for 6 months

Difficult to use.
RevMan5 Free Works best in Cochrane "universe"
Sumari Free Works best in JBI "universe" - dated interface