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Systematic Review Guide: Understanding Systematic Literature Review, Meta-Analysis, Database Searching

Systematic Review Guide: Understanding Systematic Literature Review, Meta-Analysis, Database Searching

Definition of a Systematic Literature Review

systematic literature review (SLR) is a comprehensive research protocol for identifying, evaluating, and synthesizing existing research studies relevant to a specific topic or problem. Therefore, this is the primary purpose of a review. Unlike traditional narrative reviews, which may be more subjective and less rigorous in their approach, a review of the literature follows a structured and transparent process to minimize bias and ensure the reliability of the review findings. In terms of types of research, SLR is not a primary research.

Conducting a Systematic Review – Evidence Based Practice Perspective

The key purpose of a systematic review are varied. Conducting a systematic review holds several important benefits across various fields:

  • Summarizing Existing Knowledge: Systematic approach provide a comprehensive summary of existing research on a particular topic. They consolidate scattered information into a coherent whole, making it easier for researchers, policymakers, and practitioners to grasp the current state of knowledge in a field.
  • Identifying Gaps and Inconsistencies: Systematic literature reviews originated from the need to identify gaps, inconsistencies, and contradictions in the existing literature. By pinpointing areas where research is lacking or conflicting, they guide future research efforts and inform research agendas.
  • Informing Evidence-Based Decision Making: It serves as a foundation for evidence-based approach and decision making in various domains, including healthcare, policy-making, and business. They provide robust evidence to support or refute hypotheses, interventions, policies, or practices, helping stakeholders make informed decisions.
  • Guiding Policy and Practice: It plays a crucial role in informing policy development and clinical practice guidelines. Policymakers, healthcare providers, and other stakeholders rely on systematic reviews to understand the effectiveness, safety, and cost-effectiveness of interventions and inform the development of policies and guidelines.
  • Reducing Bias and Increasing Transparency: It follows a rigorous and transparent methodology to minimize bias and ensure the reliability of findings. By adhering to predefined protocols, means of systematic review to reduce the risk of selective reporting, publication bias, and other forms of bias commonly found in traditional narrative reviews. You may find more information from University of Missouri.
  • Synthesizing Heterogeneous Data: Systematic literature reviews integrate findings from diverse sources, including quantitative, qualitative, and mixed-methods studies. By synthesizing heterogeneous data, they provide a more comprehensive understanding of complex phenomena and offer insights that may not be apparent from individual studies alone.
  • Facilitating Reproducibility and Transparency: Systematic review requires a strict following of standardized protocols and guidelines, such as PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses). This promotes reproducibility and transparency, allowing others to replicate the review process and verify the findings.
  • Supporting Research Synthesis: Systematic literature reviews serve as building blocks for more advanced forms of research synthesis, such as meta-analyses, meta-syntheses. They provide a solid foundation of evidence that helps in the introduction to systematic understanding of the research problem.

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Difference between systematic literature review and meta-analysis

A systematic literature review involves comprehensive and structured gathering, evaluation, and synthesis of existing research on a specific topic. It aims to summarize, analyze, and interpret findings to provide a comprehensive understanding of the subject and creates new knowledge by means of systematic process.

In contrast, a meta-analysis statistically combines data from multiple studies included in the review to quantitatively assess the overall effect size or relationship between variables. 

The difference between a systematic review and meta-analysis is that while systematic reviews focus on summarizing evidence qualitatively, the latter go further by synthesizing numerical data across studies to derive more precise estimates of effects, offering a quantitative synthesis. 
Here are the 6 steps you can follow to write a systematic literature review and meta analysis. Please make sure you’re conversant with them to develop a detailed format.

A 6-Step Guide to Mastering how to Conduct a Systematic Literature Review

Step 1: Define Research Question and Objectives

The first step in undertaking a literature review is to clearly define the research question or objectives. This should be performed in relation to the topic area or research problem under investigation. It involves specifying the scope of the systematic literature review, identifying the key concepts or variables of interest, and determining the population, intervention/exposure, comparator (if applicable), and outcomes (PICO/PECO framework). The research question is among the major components of a systematic literature.

When defining the research questions and objectives of the systematic literature review, you should:

  • Define the scope of the review by clearly delineating the boundaries of the topic or research area.
  • Clarify the overarching purpose or goal of the review.
  • Consider the needs and interests of stakeholders who will use the review findings.
  • Assess the relevance and importance of the topic within the broader context of the field.
  • Evaluate the feasibility of conducting the review within the available resources, time frame, and expertise.
  • Consider any ethical issues or concerns related to the review, such as the potential impact on vulnerable populations, data privacy and confidentiality, and conflicts of interest.

Step 2: Develop Search Strategy

Once the research question is defined, the next step is to develop a comprehensive search strategy to identify relevant studies. This involves selecting appropriate databases (e.g., PubMed, Web of Science, Scopus, may be Google Scholar, PMC), identifying relevant search terms and keywords, and constructing search strings using Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT). Additionally, consider using other sources such as grey literature, reference lists of relevant studies, and contacting experts in the field to ensure a thorough search. The literature search results are influenced by the adopted strategy.

Step 3: Screen Studies for Eligibility

After conducting the scientific literature search, the identified studies are screened for eligibility based on predefined inclusion and exclusion criteria. Initially, titles and abstracts are screened to identify potentially relevant studies. Subsequently, full-text articles of potentially relevant studies are assessed to determine final inclusion in the review. Only studies which meet all the eligibility criteria or checklist are selected for review. Generally, this is a study selection process.

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Step 4: Extract Data from Included Studies for Review Process

Once the final set of included studies is determined, data extraction is performed to systematically collect relevant information from each study. This involves developing a data extraction form to capture key study characteristics (e.g., study design, sample size), methods (e.g., intervention/exposure, outcome measures), and results (e.g., main findings, effect estimates). This helps in achieving the literature quality appraisal.

Step 5: Assess Methodology Quality

After data extraction, the methodological quality and risk of bias of selected studies are assessed using appropriate literature quality assessment tools or criteria, and it is among the major aspects of systematic review. This stage of a literature review includes using standardized quality assessment tools such as the Cochrane Risk of Bias Tool for randomized controlled trials or the Newcastle-Ottawa Scale for observational studies. Methodological quality assessment helps evaluate and appraise the internal validity and reliability of the studies and informs the interpretation of findings.

Step 6: Synthesize Findings in Systematic Review and Meta Analysis

Finally, the findings of selected studies are synthesized to provide an overall summary of the evidence. The types of evidence synthesis methods may vary depending on the nature of the research question and the available data but commonly include narrative synthesis or thematic analysis. The synthesized findings are interpreted in relation to the research question or objectives, highlighting key patterns, themes, or trends across studies. The review findings may also identify gaps in the literature and suggest implications for future research or practice.

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Frequently Asked Questions about Systematic Literature review

1. What is a Systematic Literature Review?

A systematic literature review is a comprehensive, structured, and methodical review of existing literature on a specific research question or topic area. It involves a rigorous search strategy across various databases to identify and synthesize relevant studies.

2. How is a Systematic Review Different from a Literature Review?

A systematic review is a more comprehensive and structured form of a literature review. While a traditional literature review might be more narrative and selective, a systematic review follows a well-defined methodology to minimize bias and provide a robust synthesis of existing evidence.

3. What is Meta-Analysis in the Context of Systematic Reviews?

Meta-analysis is a statistical technique used in systematic reviews to quantitatively combine the results of multiple studies on a specific topic. It helps in providing a more precise estimate of the effect size or outcome of interest.

4. How Do I Conduct a Systematic Literature Review?

To conduct a systematic review, you need to define a clear research question, develop a search strategy using relevant search terms, establish inclusion and exclusion criteria, screen and select studies based on these criteria, and critically appraise the included studies for quality and relevance.

5. What Are Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews (PRISMA)?

PRISMA is a set of guidelines that provide a standardized framework for reporting systematic reviews and meta-analyses. Adhering to PRISMA guidelines ensures transparency and completeness in the reporting of systematic review methods and findings.

6. Why is a Systematic Approach Important in Literature Reviews?

A systematic approach is crucial in literature reviews, especially for evidence-based research, as it helps researchers minimize bias, ensure reproducibility, and synthesize existing knowledge in a structured and rigorous manner.

Dr. Robertson Prime, Research Fellow
Dr. Robertson Prime, Research Fellow
https://bestdissertationwriter.com