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Systematic Reviews

Develop a good research question

A good SR search question is specific and answerable.

  • It can often be summarized as PICO (patient or population, intervention or exposure, comparison, and outcome).
  • Question is answerable, and the answer makes a difference.
  •  A test search locales sentinel articles on this topic, or examples of the type of study I wish to find,
  • The topic has not been over-studied and I'm not duplicating other research.

Who has already done this?

Before you begin, search your SR question to see if a similar project is underway or has already been done.

Places to look:

Test-search your question

 Are there enough empirical studies (RCTs, etc.) available on my topic to do an SR?  You will need a sufficient amount of existing research upon which to base your SR.

Do a trial (scoping) search using your PICO terms. If no/insufficient empirical studies are found, adjust your research question. If you find "on target" articles, save the best ones as sentinel articles.

Places to look:

  • Other subject database with empirical studies (PsycINFO, ERIC, Social Services Abstracts ...)

Other Search Frameworks

non-PICO frameworks such as PEO (population-exposure-outcome) are used for topics that don't "fit" the PICO framework.

Here is an example:

Then, F. S., Luck, T., Luppa, M., Thinschmidt, M., Deckert, S., Nieuwenhuijsen, K., ... & Riedel-Heller, S. G. (2014). Systematic review of the effect of the psychosocial working environment on cognition and dementia. Occupational and environmental medicine71(5), 358-365.

Here is a list of commonly-used frameworks (City University of London, Using a Framework to structure your question.