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Systematic reviews: The review team

The review team

  • You cannot do a systematic review on your own. This is a common misunderstanding, particularly amongst students. 
  • Systematic review teams require at least two people due to a risk of bias, and require a mix of topic and methodological expertise. 
  • Before starting, gather your team and clarify any expectations.
  • A major problem is underestimating the time commitment needed, especially for initial screening.
  • As a rough indication, systematic reviews co-authored by library staff have averaged 6 authors.

The review team - questions to consider

Who will be on your review team?

  • Who will be the lead author?
  • Who will organise and drive the review?
  • Who will define (and refine) the question?
  • Who will design the search strategies?
  • Who will run searches across multiple databases?
  • Who will remove duplicate results?
  • Who will set up a review in Covidence?
  • Who will screen search results on title and abstract (2+ people)?
  • Who will source full text for the full text review?
  • Who will screen records on full text (2+ people)?
  • Who will assess the quality of studies (2+ people)?
  • Who will extract data (2+ people)?
  • Who will prepare statistics for a meta analysis?
  • Who will contribute to the paper, including writing up methodology?
  • Who will be responsible for version control?
  • Who will submit the paper to journals and respond to reviewers?

The review team - what do you need?

Topic expertise

  • Most reviews start with topic experts asking a question, so not usually a problem
  • Avoid conflicts of interest that could create a risk of bias.
  • Clarify how much time topic experts are prepared to commit to the process. Will they help with screening, or just provide feedback on the topic and results?

Search expertise

Screening records - time commitment

  • Don't underestimate the time commitment needed to screen large numbers of search results.
  • At least 2 people with topic expertise need to screen on title and abstract, then on full text.
  • There needs to be a way to resolve disagreements - which may involve a third person.
  • Don't assume a supervisor can screen records - they rarely have time.
  • Consider a trade - you screen someone else's project if they screen for you. You both gain experience and an extra publication. This is particularly helpful for people doing a PhD.

Assessing quality and data extraction

  • At least 2 topic experts required.

Statistics expertise

  • If you are including a meta-analysis ensure that someone in the team is proficient in statistics.

Writing skills

  • The lead author usually develops the initial draft and leads the process.
  • Most team members should contribute to the written publication according to their expertise.
  • Version control! 

Journal submission

  • Who will persevere with submitting to journals, which may need to be done multiple times?

Helen Wilding

Helen Wilding, Senior Research Librarian

Carl de Gruchy Library, St Vincent's Hospital Melbourne

Literature Searching, Systematic Reviews, Mental Health liaison 
Thursdays, Fridays & alternate Wednesdays
Helen's profile | Researchgate | Orcid