Systematic reviews

Whenever you come across a new way of doing anything, particularly when it is about research, it is critical that you ask the simple question: Where did this come from?

For your task this means looking at the history of two things: the history of the research topic you want to research;1 and a history of the methodology you will make use of, in this case of a systematic review. There is an excellent account of this by Bohlin (2012). Her account2 maps the relationship to meta-analyses well and also traces the challenges and critiques associated with systematic reviews. You don't need to read the discussion of meta-analysis but it is a useful read.

There is a useful introduction to the role and use of systematic reviews by Liz Victor3

As Victor (2008) notes, systematic reviewing has its origins in the medical sciences.

The original aim of a systematic review was to synthesise all the available, high quality evidence on the effects of an intervention to provide a robust evidence base to guide policy and practice. The method came to prominence with the development of the evidence-based medicine movement in the nineteen eighties and nineties. p. 32

In some fields where the number of reviews is large there has developed an approach of developing an overview of systematic reviews, that is a systematic review of a set of systematic reviews4 There is also a devlopment of what are labelled rapid reviews5 Both of these developments are in the health sciences field and no doubt will find their way into the social sciences in time.

There is also a good overview of systematic reviews by Lyn Ang: Ang, L. (2018). Methodological reflections on the use of systematic reviews in early childhood research. Journal of Early Childhood Research, 16(1), 18-31. doi:10.1177/1476718x17750206

Systematic reviews are a manifestation of growing abundance of information. You can see the problem in a broader context via this insightful post.

There are a number of journals specialising in systematic reviews.

There is a useful account (from the field of Health sciences) of a typology of reviews6

Components of a systematic review
Here is an overview of the components of a systematic review.

Here are some examples of systematic reviews. The adjective systematic is used flexibly.

Locating resources is obviously a crucial part of conducting a SR. The paint-by-the-numbers approach often described in the many how to do it protocols is somewhat misleading according to Greenhalgh and Peacock7 The abstract is reproduced in the week three notes.

There is a variety of searching strategies that are worth noting.

Most users of Google make little or no use of its routine features. There is a page in this Wiki that will point you to some useful resources and help make your searching a little less painful.

Synthesis and analysis
There is a variety of approaches that have been used to carry out syntheses of systematic reviews.

Useful commentary and advice about conducting systematic reviews
Systematic reviews are a relatively new field (see Bohlin (2012) and there are some useful papers that explore some of the important issues associated with doing a systematic review.

Some approaches to systematic reviews
There are a number of approaches that can be taken to conducting a systematic review.

Critiques of systematic reviews
The rise of the systematic review across a number of health fields and in education has not happened without controversy.

Writing a systematic review
Published systematic reviews follow a fairly predictable structure. Here are notes to help you map your paper.

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