In academic writing, a systematic review may prove the most challenging to produce. It is different from the traditional literature review. In that, an SLR aims to assess the level of quality and magnitude of evidence that exists on the topic of interest.
As inferred by the name systematic lit review, it has to be systematic. Whereby, you will have to scrutinise and analyse, a large amount of literature, in detail.
To produce compelling content, one may need to follow a step by step process. In addition to this, observing the following tips will come in handy:
Understand the type of systematic review required
There are different types of SLRs, divided into three main categories. They are:
- Qualitative: in this type of analysis, you will only summarise the results but not combine them statistically.
- Quantitative: here you will need to combine the results of at least two studies, using statistical methods.
- Meta-analysis: this type of review calls for you to use independent, relevant, but similar studies, integrate their estimates of effect and apply statistical methods to summarise them.
Have a clear and well-defined research question
As you develop a review paper format, for the SLR, you need first to identify the research question. It should be of the appropriate scope. Doing so will guide you in defining the terminology to use in the paper.
That is an essential step in the SLR process. Next, you need to research the literature that exists that inform how the research question develops. It aids you in identify gaps and also ensuring that you don’t duplicate previous works.
Define eligibility criteria
It will guide your search and decision to include or exclude a particular study. Thus, the papers you choose to include should meet the pre-defined criteria. You may have to consider various factors in doing this.
From the design of the study, populations, comparison groups, and even measured outcomes. Use the criteria to screen the materials you come across. Ideally, you may need to rely on two or more independent reviewers to help in resolving any areas of disagreement.
Write a Protocol
Having a protocol is useful as it promotes the transparency of methods. It acts as the roadmap for the review. In that, you specify the processes, objectives and the outcomes of the primary interests of the investigation.
The protocol entails a definition of the selection criteria of the studies, date to be analysed, search terms, and more. You will have to submit it together with the manuscript. You may also need to use the PRISMA statement in writing a systematic review, and the protocol, too.
Select studies and extract relevant data
As stated earlier, the selection of studies will depend on the criteria for inclusion or exclusion that you adopt. You can start by screening their titles/ abstract before you move to the full-text.
From the included studies, use relevant tools to extract the data that applies to the research question. It could be in the form of a spreadsheet, or an SLR software. You will also need to determine the fields that you should include or those that exist and need clarification.
Do this with the help of the data extraction tool.
Evaluate RoB (Risk of Bias) of the studies
During the stage where you characterise the reviews, you first have to decide on the type of data, you will look for, in the selected studies. You also need to summarise your findings by taking note of any missing information and register it in the report.
To aid you in evaluating the selected studies, you to assess potential biases. Here, you consider factors, such as study design, among other things. You can also use a risk bias tool, to achieve this.
Synthesize the results clearly
An essential part of a systematic literature review is the presentation of results and analysis of the quality of evidence. You should present them clearly so that it can be easy to update it with new findings. If the studies allow it, you can perform a meta-analysis of the selected studies, too.
Use the patterns discovered provide recommendations or directions for future research, by evaluating the current state of the subject. Also, try to find a connection between the reported information, by different sources, and highlight them.
It can be argued that SLRs is one of the best methods to summarise evidence and synthesise it. It is also gaining popularity among researchers.
To keep you from feeling overwhelmed with it, try tackle each section of the systematic review, on its own, and good luck.