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"A systematic review attempts to collate all empirical evidence that fits pre-specified eligibility criteria in order to answer a specific research question. ... 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; and
  • a systematic presentation, and synthesis, of the characteristics and findings of the included studies."

Excerpted from: Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions, version 5.1 (updated March 2011). Archived version available here.

Overview of the systematic review process

Click on a step below to learn more, or use the blue tabs at the top of the page to navigate this guide.


Quantitative, qualitative, & mixed-methods systematic reviews

Depending on your research question, your systematic review may use quantitative studies, qualitative studies, or a combination of the two (mixed-methods). A systematic review of mixed-methods studies would also constitute a mixed-methods systematic review. 

The steps involved in conducting a systematic review - planning, searching, selecting etc. - are the same regardless of the type of studies included. However, there are important methodological differences during certain steps. 

Qualitative and mixed-methods systematic reviews differ from quantitative reviews during: 

  • Planning
  • Appraisal of the included studies
  • Extraction of data
  • Synthesis & analysis of data
  • Reporting

This guide focuses primarily on systematic reviews of quantitative studies. This guide also includes resources and considerations for qualitative and mixed-methods systematic reviews.

More information:


Many - but not all - systematic reviews contain a meta-analysis of the quantitative data from included studies. Meta-analysis is a statistical procedure that combines and summarises quantitative data from multiple individual studies. 

It is not always possible or appropriate for a systematic review to include a meta-analysis. For instance, if your research question is best answered with qualitative data, or if the included studies are too heterogeneous to combine. 

See the Synthesise & Analyse page of this guide for more information.

Pre-requisites for a systematic review

Before deciding to embark on a systematic review, stop and ensure that you can answer 'Yes' to each of the questions below. 

  1. Is a systematic review the best study design for your research question?

    Another type of review may be more appropriate, such as a narrative or scoping review. The following resources will help you determine which kind of review is a good fit for your research question, the purpose of your research, and the resources you have available.

  2. Do you have a team ready to work on your systematic review?

    Systematic reviews cannot be produced by just one person; their methodology requires multiple reviewers in order to minimise the risk of bias and error. It is recommended that systematic review teams include - or at least consult - a librarian (see 'Library support' below).

  3. Does your systematic review team have sufficient time and resources?

    It generally takes 6-18 months to complete a systematic review. It can easily take much longer depending on a range of factors - e.g. volume of papers to screen, unexpected increase in clinical load - some of which may be outside of the team's control.

The systematic review team

A systematic review team should, collectively, have expertise that covers each of the areas summarised in the table below.

In addition, members should not have any conflicts of interest, financial or otherwise. The Cochrane Handbook (2022) also suggests consulting consumers and other stakeholders.

Type of expertise Description
Content expertise

Subject matter experts on the topic area under review.

The Cochrane Handbook (2022) recommends that content expertise not be too narrow, suggesting that teams should consist of members from more than one discipline in order to incorporate all relevant perspectives.

Methodological expertise

Experience with, or knowledge of, systematic review methodology. This includes an understanding of the methodology overall, as well as skills in key steps such as literature searching and critical appraisal.

The Cochrane Handbook (2022) states that review authors should work closely, from the start of the protocol, with an experienced medical/healthcare librarian or information specialist.

Monash Health employees can access this support from the Library - see 'Library support' below.

Statistical expertise

Experience with statistical procedures used in systematic reviews. 

All clinical staff at Monash Health can access the Biostatistical Consulting Service at Monash University, however only the initial consultation is free.

Monash Health staff who are affiliated with a university may be able to access support from a statistician associated with the same institution. 

For more information see: Who should do a systematic review? from the Cochrane Handbook (2022). 

Monash Health employees can request systematic review support from the Library team. The highest level of support is co-authorship. Open the online form below to learn more about the available options and to submit a request for support.

Request research support

Other support options are summarised in the following one-page PDF.

Library Research Support Services

If you have any questions about the right support for your systematic review, or another research project, contact the Library team via our live online chat, phone (03) 9594 2600, or email to

This guide also indicates where Library support is available at each stage of the systematic review process.

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