Skip to Main Content Home Ask a Librarian

Systematic Reviews

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

Librarians and Systematic Reviews

"The Cochrane Handbook, Centre for Reviews and Dissemination (CRD), Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), all recommend that you: 

  • Work with a librarian or other information specialist with SR training to plan the search strategy
  • Use an independent librarian or other information specialist to peer review the search strategy

Navigating through the various sources of research data and publications is a complex task that requires experience with a wide range of bibliographic databases and electronic information sources, and substantial resources." (Institute of Medicine, 2011).

If librarians translate one finalized database search into the idenfitied, relevant databases, prepare this for publication in the manuscript's appendices, or assist with the methods section, this is considered a substantial contribution to your systematic review and the librarian must be credited as a co-author. 

Institute of Medicine. (2011). Finding What Works in Health Care: Standards for Systematic Reviews. The National Academies Press.


This is required if a librarian:

  • Translates the first, finalized search into the other relevant databases and formats the search strategies for publication in the appendices of the manuscript


  • Assists with or writes the methods section

Note: This is not an exhaustive list of what librarians will help with during the systematic review process, merely the minimum requirements for authorship.


This is a consultant role.

Librarians can share resources about:

  • Identifying grey literature sources.
  • Creating inclusion/exclusion criteria.
  • Creating and registering a protocol.

Librarians can assist with:

  • Choosing the appropriate review type that fits your question.
  • Refining your topic.
  • Providing training on general usage of citation management software, finding full-text and screening tools.
  • Creating one database search, primarily in PubMed.
  • Critiquing your database searches.

In addition to the minimum requirements for authorship,

Librarians can share resources about:

  • Creating and registering a protocol.
  • Identifying grey literature sources.
  • Creating inclusion/exclusion criteria.
  • Critical appraisal or risk of bias. 

Librarians will help with:

  • Refining your topic.
  • Translating your PICO format to a research question or vice-versa. 
  • Providing training on finding full-text and screening tools.
  • Bulk export search results from the different databases and deduplicate. After this, we will then send you the .RIS file.
  • Filling out the PRISMA flow diagram.

Read more:

  • Aamodt, M., Huurdeman, H., & Strømme, H. (2019). Librarian Co-Authored Systematic Reviews are Associated with Lower Risk of Bias Compared to Systematic Reviews with Acknowledgement of Librarians or No Participation by Librarians. Evidence Based Library and Information Practice, 14(4), Article 4.
  • Koffel, J. B. (2015). Use of Recommended Search Strategies in Systematic Reviews and the Impact of Librarian Involvement: A Cross-Sectional Survey of Recent Authors. PLOS ONE, 10(5), e0125931.
  • Meert, D., Torabi, N., & Costella, J. (2016). Impact of librarians on reporting of the literature searching component of pediatric systematic reviews—PMC. Journal of the Medical Library Association, 104(4), 267–277.
  • Metzendorf, M.-I., & Featherstone, R. M. (2018). Ensuring quality as the basis of evidence synthesis: Leveraging information specialists’ knowledge, skills, and expertise. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 9.
  • Rethlefsen, M. L., Farrell, A. M., Osterhaus Trzasko, L. C., & Brigham, T. J. (2015). Librarian co-authors correlated with higher quality reported search strategies in general internal medicine systematic reviews. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, 68(6), 617–626.

Timeline to complete a systematic review*

* Please note that this is over time, not all at once!

It is not recommended to perform/assign a systematic review as:

  • A thesis or dissertation/class assignment (learn more here)
  •  Something to be completed in the summer

To start a systematic review, it's recommended you: 

  • Have a team of three active authors 
  • Have at least 15 months to complete a systematic review

We do recommend that prior to performing a systematic review, you should:

  1. Review guide, the Cochrane Handbook, JBI or PRISMA
  2. Review or attempt to fill out a systematic review protocol, through OSF or PROSPERO

To learn more about planning a review, look at the Cochrane Handbook or the JBI Manual

Schmillen H.(n.d.). Library Guides: Systematic Reviews (SRs): Timeline & Typical Workflow. Accessed May 31, 2023.

1. How long can a systematic review take?

Answer: "The mean estimated time to complete the project and publish the review was 67.3 weeks [approximately 1 year and 3 months]."

2. How many authors usually are involved with a systematic review?

Answer: We recommend that at least 2 authors are involved in the systematic review process, with a third needed for tie-breaking during the screening process. According to Borah et al. (2017) "The mean number of authors per review was 5".

3. Do I have to register my systematic review in PROSPERO or Open Science Framework (OSF)?

Answer: While it is not required, according to PRISMA's website, "Systematic reviews should be registered at inception (i.e. at the protocol stage) to help avoid unplanned duplication and to enable comparison of reported review methods with what was planned in the protocol."

4. What are some citation managers that help with systematic reviews?

Answer: Zotero, Mendeley, and Endnote.

5. What is backward and forward citation searching?

Answer: Backward citation searching is undertaken by reviewing bibliographies of relevant or included studies and forward citation chasing is undertaken by checking if a study, already known to be relevant, has since been cited by another study (Cooper et al., 2017)

6. I came across a term related to systematic reviews that I don't understand. Is there a systematic review glossary?

Answer: While there is not a standard systematic review glossary, Nagendrababu et al (2020) wrote a "Glossary for systematic reviews and meta-analyses." that provides some terms and their definitions. 

Borah, R., Brown, A.W., Capers, P.L., and Kaiser, K.A (2017) Analysis of the time and workers needed to conduct systematic reviews of medical interventions using data from the PROSPERO registry. BMJ Open, 7(2), e012545. 

Cooper, C., Booth, A., Britten, N., & Garside, R. (2017). A comparison of results of empirical studies of supplementary search techniques and recommendations in review methodology handbooks: A methodological review. Systematic Reviews, 6(1), 234.

Nagendrababu, V., Dilokthornsakul, P., Jinatongthai, P., Veettil, S. K., Pulikkotil, S. J., Duncan, H. F., & Dummer, P. M. H. (2020). Glossary for systematic reviews and meta-analyses. International Endodontic Journal, 53(2), 232–249.

Registration. (n.d.). PRISMA. Retrieved June 2, 2023, from