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Information for systematic reviewers: Introduction

Information on useful information resources and searching tips for researchers undertaking systematic reviews in medicine and health research.

In this guide...


  • About systematic reviews
  • Define your question
  • Document your search
  • Answering Clinical Questions
  • More information

Finding systematic reviews

  • Databases that include systematic reviews
  • Registers of systematic reviews
  • Systematic reviews by UWA authors

Finding Journal Articles

  • Core databases
  • Subject-specific databases
  • Citation searching
  • Primary Health Care search filter
  • Australian health databases

Grey literature

  • Why grey literature?
  • International sources of grey literature
  • What is grey literature?
  • Australian sources of grey literature
  • Dissertations and theses
  • Conference proceedings
  • Study registries

Keeping current

  • Using alert services
  • Table of Contents alerts
  • Citation alerts
  • Search alerts
  • Author alerts

Using EndNote


  • Let us know what you think
  • Need more help?

    UWA Library

    About systematic reviews

    Systematic reviews aim to answer a specific research question by systematically locating and analysing all existing evidence on the topic. Systematic reviews are more rigorous and evidence-based than literature or narrative reviews, and often form the basis of evidence-based practice.

    This guide provides information to researchers undertaking a systematic review, specifically addressing the process of searching for studies to include in your review.

    Systematic review steps


    Getting started: Define your question

    The purpose of a systematic review is to answer a clear and focused question. The question should be the first thing you define in the process of beginning your systematic review, and should guide decisions around your inclusion and exclusion criteria, how you create your search strategy, how you collect data and how you present your findings. Questions may be broad or narrow in focus.

    The PICO(S) model can be used to create your well built question.

    Population Ask: How would I describe a group of patients similar to mine?
    The patient, problem or situation.
    Intervention Ask: Which main interventions am I considering?
    Therapy, prevention, diagnostic testing, aetiology/harm.
    Comparison Ask: What is the main alternative?
    Outcome Ask: What could this intervention accomplish, measure, improve or affect?
    Study design
    Ask: Which study design will best answer my question?

    Equal emphasis may not be put on each part of the PICO(S), and will largely depend on the topic of your systematic review.

    Document your search

    The methodology that is used for your searching should be documented and included in some way as part of your final review (exact procols differ between journals). You should detail:

    • the search terms for each resource used,
    • the number of results returned,
    • the date on which you ran the search,
    • any limits you applied (date, language, etc.)

    It may be useful to save your search strategies in the databases you use (where possible) to refer back to later. Resources such as Medline, EMBASE and Cochrane provide this feature.

    Following are some examples of documented search methodologies:

    Answering Clinical Questions

    ACQ logo

    The Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences at UWA has created an online learning module called Answering Clinical Questions. This tutorial will walk you through the process of evidence based practice and will assist you to create a meaningful and answerable question for your systematic review using the concept of PICO. There are four modules in ACQ:

    1. Formulate a clinical question

    2. Find the best evidence

    3. Appraise the evidence

    4. Apply the evidence

    More information

    The following books may be useful further reading for those conducting a systematic review: