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Systematic Reviews: Documenting and reporting

A guide to assist staff and students undertaking systematic reviews

Documenting the Search Process

Documenting the search process:

The search process needs to be documented in enough detail to ensure that it can be reported correctly in the review and reproduced for verification.

For each database search record:

  • Database searched
  • Database provider (e.g. EBSCO)
  • Search strategy - keywords used and how these were combined in the search
  • Years searched
  • Date search was run
  • Any filters used
  • Number of studies identified

EndNote software can be used to record full bibliographical details for each citation and additional notes relating to the selection and evaluation of that  source.

It's advisable that you set up a personal login and save your searches in each database to enable you to refer back to them later.

Reporting search results:

There are a number of places where searches can be reported. These include the appendix, the review abstract, the methods section or the results section.

Ideally, as well as describing the search strategy in the methodology section of your review (or as an Appendix to the review) these results will then form a part of the PRISMA flow diagram which is included in your review.

PRISMA Reporting

Tools

PRISMA Flow Diagram

The flow diagram depicts the flow of information through the different phases of a systematic review. It maps out the number of records identified, included and excluded, and the reasons for exclusions. Different templates are available depending on the type of review (new or updated) and sources used to identify studies.

PRISMA 2020 flow diagram for new systematic reviews which included searches of databases and registers only

PRISMA 2020 flow diagram for new systematic reviews which included searches of databases, registers and other sources

PRISMA 2020 flow diagram for updated systematic reviews which included searches of databases and registers only

PRISMA 2020 flow diagram for updated systematic reviews which included searches of databases, registers and other sources

Flow diagrams can also be generated using a Shiny App available at https://www.eshackathon.org/software/PRISMA2020.html

For more information about citing and using PRISMA click here.

Synthesis & Interpretation of Findings

"Meta-analysis of effect estimates has many advantages, but other synthesis methods may need to be considered in the circumstance where there is incompletely reported data in the primary studies" (Cochrane, 2021)

Deeks JJ, Higgins JPT, Altman DG (editors). Chapter 10: Analysing data and undertaking meta-analyses. In: Higgins JPT, Thomas J, Chandler J, Cumpston M, Li T, Page MJ, Welch VA (editors). Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions version 6.2 (updated February 2021). Cochrane, 2021. Available from www.training.cochrane.org/handbook.

The results of a meta-analysis are often illustrated using a forest plot.

References:

Ried, K. (2006). Interpreting and understanding meta-analysis graphs--a practical guide. Australian Family Physician, 35(8), 635–638.

References

Kable, A. K., Pich, J., & Maslin-Prothero, S. E. (2012). A structured approach to documenting a search strategy for publication: A 12 step guideline for authors. Nurse Education Today, 32(8), 878–878. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nedt.2012.02.022

Page, M. J., McKenzie, J. E., Bossuyt, P. M., Boutron, I., Hoffmann, T. C., Mulrow, C. D., Shamseer, L., Tetzlaff, J. M., Akl, E. A., Brennan, S. E., Chou, R., Glanville, J., Grimshaw, J. M., Hro╠übjartsson A, Lalu, M. M., Li, T., Loder, E. W., Mayo-Wilson, E., McDonald, S., … Moher, D. (2021). The PRISMA 2020 statement: An updated guideline for reporting systematic reviews. Systematic Reviews, 10(1), Article 89. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13643-021-01626-4

Panic, N., Leoncini, E., de Belvis, G., Ricciardi, W., & Boccia, S. (2013). Evaluation of the endorsement of the preferred reporting items for systematic reviews and meta-analysis (PRISMA) statement on the quality of published systematic review and meta-analyses. Plos One, 8(12), e83138. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0083138

Sohrabi, C., Franchi, T., Mathew, G., Kerwan, A., Nicola, M., Griffin, M., Agha, M., & Agha, R. (2021). PRISMA 2020 statement: What’s new and the importance of reporting guidelines. International Journal of Surgery, 88, Article 105918. https://doi-org.ezproxy.ecu.edu.au/10.1016/j.ijsu.2021.105918