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What is a Systematic Review?

A systematic review is a form of literature review which answers a question based on the currently available research after a thorough search for relevant papers on the subject. It follows a specific, transparent methodology and can be replicated by other researchers.

It differs from a "traditional" literature review in its attempt to reduce author bias - rather than presenting author selected studies following a literature search, the systematic review aims to collect all studies that meet the pre-defined eligibility criteria and discuss the findings of all the identified studies. 

You can read more about Systematic Reviews, and other types of literature reviews, on PhD on Track.

Sage Research Methods also has lots of information on conducting systematic reviews - from articles and books to case studies from researchers and tools to help you plan your research. 


Key Features of a systematic review 

  • A clearly stated research aim, with pre-defined eligibility criteria for including or excluding studies.
  • A transparent methodology - another researcher should be able to follow the steps in your methodology and replicate the results you found.
  • A search strategy that attempts to identify all the literature that meets the eligibility criteria.
  • A discussion of the characteristics and findings of the included studies.
  • A systematic review is usually performed by a team of researchers - this is another step which helps to reduce author bias. If you are producing a systematic review as an Undergraduate or Masters student, it is likely that you will be working alone. 


Am I really doing a systematic review?

If you are an undergraduate or MSc student doing your dissertation, or a solo PGR exploring the existing research as a precursor to your own research, then you are probably producing a literature review informed by systematic methodology. The systematic review process guidance on these pages can help you with this. 

Useful books

Sage Research Methods

Sage Research Methods is a very useful resource when it comes to finding out about research methodology.

Help and support

Your Subject Librarian will be able to give advice on the following aspects of your Systematic Review:

  • Constructing an effective search strategy
  • Database selection
  • Reference management


For subject-specific support please contact your Subject Librarian.

Additional support

Campbell Collaboration - social science systematic reviews 

PROSPERO - protocol register useful for searching for other reviews currently ongoing and to register your protocol

PRISMA Statement - reporting guidelines for a systematic review including a reporting checklist and a flow diagram for recording your search strategy

University of Bristol library subject guides - guides related to your subject area