Managing the systematic review process - beyond the search 

PRISMA: overview and reporting

The  PRISMA Statement embodies a commitment to transparent reporting of systematic reviews and meta-analysis.  PRISMA's checklists and reporting guidelines are recommended to help in the process of writing up systematic reviews. 

The  PRISMA Checklist gives an overview of the whole process of conducting a systematic review. Note that good record keeping is essential when working on a systematic review: record the dates you run searches, the number of results you find, and the search strategies used. PRISMA's flow diagram is the standard way to report the process of searching and selecting studies for a systematic review.


Registering your protocol

It is good practice to register a protocol for your proposed systematic review with an appropriate organisation. 

PROSPERO is an international database of systematic review protocols of any study design where there is a health-related outcome. (Note: PROSPERO previously accepted registrations provided reviewers had not completed their data extraction but now only accepts reviews provided that data extraction has not yet begun.)

You might also wish to explore the title registration processes of organisations such as Cochrane and the Campbell Collaboration.

For a review without health-related outcomes, you could consider uploading your protocol to the Open Science Framework (OSF) platform or the University of Nottingham Research Data Repository.

Reference management

It is important to consider how you will manage the references retrieved by your searches. 

There are several reference management tools available to help with this task. Open source (free) options include:

  • Mendeley
  • Zotero
  • EndNote Basic

The University of Nottingham subscribes to  EndNote: read our advice about using EndNote both on the desktop and online.

The University of Southampton has produced some useful guidance on using EndNote for systematic reviews

Study selection and screening

There are tools available which can help with the screening and selection of studies:

  • Reference management tools can be used to screen your references.
  • Covidence is a primary screening and data extraction tool designed for Cochrane reviews and is free to use for the first 500 records.
  • Rayyan is free to use and enables easy sharing. It is very effective for title and abstract screening but full-text screening is not as straightforward. McGill University has produced a comprehensive guide on using Rayyan.


Critical appraisal

Systematic reviews involve assessment of the methodological quality of the studies they include.

Try this online tutorial  to introduce you to critical appraisal.

There are lots of tools to help you with this task. These organisations produce useful checklists: 

  • CASP (Critical Appraisal Skills Programme), a set of eight critical appraisal tools including for qualitative studies.
  • CEBM  (Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine).




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