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University of Washington Health Sciences Library

Systematic Reviews and other evidence synthesis projects

Plan for success!

Let your guidelines inform your preparations. What databases are appropriate for your question? What will you need to report? How will your team collect and share that information? You can also use the PRISMA-P checklist to help you plan your project.

The Systematic Review Team

Keep these guidelines in mind when establishing your systematic review team:

  • Have a minimum of 3 reviewers, although a higher number will expedite the screening process.
    • Odd number simplifies tie-breaking process
    • Depending on the size of the literature, you may want to add additional team members. A team of up to ten or twelve people is not unusual for a large systematic review.
  • Choose experts in the field.
  • Collaborate with a librarian to develop a search strategy.
  • Work with a statistician if conducting a meta-analysis.
  • Define roles and expectations early in the review process

At each step of the process, multiple team members may have a role, though some may play a more prominent role at certain portions of the review. For example, the statistician may be most active during the statistical synthesis phase if a meta analysis is being performed. All team members should typically be co-authors and review the final manuscript before submission.

What is your timeline?

Systematic reviews frequently take a year or longer due to the development of a comprehensive search and two rounds of screening. An analysis by Borah et al. found that the mean time required to complete and publish a registered systematic review was 67.3 weeks.1


  • How much time can the team members dedicate to the project?
    Team members usually have other duties--clinical time, teaching, classes, committees.
  • How experienced is your team?
    If this is everyone's first time conducting a systematic review, it may require extra time to learn the process and tools.
  • How large is your screening team?
    A larger team may reduce the amount of time to screen the articles, however, it may also require better coordination and communication.

Time spent developing your protocol is likely to result in time saved during the subsequent steps.

1Borah R, Brown AW, Capers PL, Kaiser KA. Analysis of the time and workers needed to conduct systematic reviews of medical interventions using data from the PROSPERO registry. BMJ Open. 2017;7(2):e012545. Published 2017 Feb 27. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2016-012545. PMID: 28242767

Librarian Support

Research shows that the methodological quality of systematic reviews improves when librarians are active members of the research team. Librarian participation in research teams results in:

Librarian involvement in systematic reviews is a practice recommendation by the Institute of Medicine and leading sources of evidence-based information including Cochrane, the Joanna Briggs Institute and the Campbell Collaboration.

Librarian support available

The Health Sciences Library provides support for systematic reviews and other evidence synthesis:

  • Selecting appropriate review type
  • How to plan and set up a systematized review
  • Selecting appropriate databases and grey literature sources
  • Advising on search strategy and search terms
  • Advising on systematic review support tools (e.g., Covidence, Rayyan, Excel)
  • Advising on citation management tools for systematic reviews (EndNote, Zotero, Mendeley)

Contact Teresa Jewell, the systematic review librarian for additional information or to set up a meeting.

If you would like assistance with a literature review (sometimes called a systematic literature review) for a class project, please schedule directly with your School’s liaison librarian since they will have the best knowledge of how to meet your course’s expectations.

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