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What is a Systematic Review?

The Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions defines a systematic review as:

"A collation of all empirical evidence that fits pre-specified eligibility criteria in order to answer a specific research question.  It uses explicit, systematic methods that are selected with a view to minimizing bias and providing reliable findings from which conclusions can be drawn and decisions made (Antman 1992, Oxman 1993).  The key characteristics of a systematic review are:

  • a clearly stated set of objectives with pre-defined eligibility criteria for studies.
  • an explicit, reproducible methodology.
  • a systematic search that attempts to identify all studies that would meet the eligibility criteria.
  • an assessment of the validity of the findings of the included studies, for example through the assessment of risk of bias.
  • a systematic presentation, and synthesis, of the characteristics and findings of the included studies."

From: Higgins JPT, Green S (editors). Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions Version 5.1.0 [updated March 2011]. The Cochrane Collaboration, 2011.