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Knowledge Synthesis

This guide includes content about systematic reviews, including general information and information about librarian assistance

What is inclusion/exclusion criteria?

Inclusion and exclusion criteria should be established during protocol development or before proceeding with the searches. It is used to determine what studies from the comprehensive, reproducible searches will be used in your article to answer your research questions or objectives. 

"The population, intervention and comparison components of the question, with the additional specification of types of study that will be included, form the basis of the pre-specified eligibility criteria for the review. It is rare to use outcomes as eligibility criteria: studies should be included irrespective of whether they report outcome data, but may legitimately be excluded if they do not measure outcomes of interest, or if they explicitly aim to prevent a particular outcome." (McKenzie et al., 2022)


Examples of inclusion/exclusion criteria:

  • Elements of PICO. (The Cochrane Handbook talks about establishing criteria in detail in Chapter 3, Section 2.)
  • Study design/type.
  • Setting (e.g. inpatient care, community organizations, schools, etc.).
  • Geographic location.
  • Language (depending on the topic, only including articles in English may exclude relevant articles).

Objective: We aimed to assess the effectiveness of interactive social media interventions, in which adults are able to communicate directly with each other, on changing health behaviours, body functions, psychological health, well‐being, and adverse effects.

Inclusion Criteria:

  • Randomised controlled trials (RCTs).
  • Controlled before‐and‐after (CBAs).
  • Interrupted time series studies (ITSs).
  • Studies in which the intervention website, app, or social media platform described a goal of changing a health behaviour, or included a behaviour change technique. 
  • Studies comparing an interactive social media intervention alone or as a component of a multi‐component intervention with either a non‐interactive social media control or an active but less‐interactive social media comparator (e.g. a moderated versus an unmoderated discussion group).
  • Outcomes such as health behaviours (e.g. physical activity), body function outcomes (e.g. blood glucose), psychological health outcomes (e.g. depression), well‐being, and adverse events.
  • Secondary outcomes such as process outcomes important for behaviour change and included knowledge, attitudes, intention and motivation, perceived susceptibility, self‐efficacy, and social support.

Exclusion Criteria: 

  • Blogs would almost always be excluded since they usually have limited interaction.
  • One‐way messages and posts or direct contact with a healthcare provider.
  • Apps that allow a person to track and monitor their progress (e.g. weight loss, blood sugar, etc.)
  • One‐way communication (e.g. education)


  • McKenzie JE, Brennan SE, Ryan RE, Thomson HJ, Johnston RV, Thomas J. Chapter 3: Defining the criteria for including studies and how they will be grouped for the synthesis. In: Higgins JPT, Thomas J, Chandler J, Cumpston M, Li T, Page MJ, Welch VA (editors). Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions version 6.3 (updated February 2022). Cochrane, 2022. Available from
  • Petkovic, J., Duench, S., Trawin, J., Dewidar, O., Pardo Pardo, J., Simeon, R., DesMeules, M., Gagnon, D., Hatcher Roberts, J., Hossain, A., Pottie, K., Rader, T., Tugwell, P., Yoganathan, M., Presseau, J., & Welch, V. (2021). Behavioural interventions delivered through interactive social media for health behaviour change, health outcomes, and health equity in the adult population. The Cochrane database of systematic reviews5(5), CD012932.