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Define your research question

A good question for a systematic review should be clearly defined and narrow in scope.

Learn how to Define your research question.

Systematic reviews are mostly conducted in health disciplines to investigate the effectiveness of interventions, but the methodology is continually adapting to address different question types and disciplines.

Types of reviews

There are different types of systematic reviews. Depending on your review question and research objectives, your question may be best suited to:

  • systematic reviews: review all available evidence to give evidence-based recommendations.  May include a meta-analysis to statistically analyse evidence.
  • scoping reviews: review all available evidence to establish overall themes, identify research gaps, and summarise evidence. Scoping reviews may be more appropriate for a literature review for a PhD thesis.
  • rapid reviews: review available evidence to provide evidence-based recommendations in a shorter timeframe than a systematic review.
  • systematic literature reviews: review and summarise existing evidence.

A systematic review may not be appropriate if your question is too broad or there is limited evidence available. Select a review type that's suited to your research objectives.

  • Learn about different types of reviews in this guide by Deakin University Library.
  • Use this online tool to find out which review type is the most suitable for your research, based on your research question, time, and resources - which review is right for you?
  • If you will be conducting a systematic review, complete this online module to learn what kind of review is best for your research question - Right Review

Find existing systematic reviews

Before starting a systematic review, check if one has already been published (or commenced) on a similar topic.

Use the following tools to conduct a scoping search, and limit to "reviews" or "systematic reviews" (depending on the interface):

Schedule time

Doing a systematic review properly can take 6–18 months. If you expect that time might be an issue, consider conducting a rapid review instead.

For more on rapid reviews, refer to:

Research teams

A research team is required to complete a systematic review. Your team may include:

  • subject matter experts (like your supervisor or colleagues) for question formulation and writing up findings
  • a librarian for guidance around literature searching
  • colleagues to become second/third reviewers. Depending on your topic, you might want to explore professional networks to identify potential collaborators among a range of stakeholders including clinicians, patients, customers, or anyone else whose contribution to the review might be useful.

If you are planning to perform a meta-analysis, you will also need access to statistical support for data analysis and synthesis.

Systematic review guides

We strongly recommend consulting best practice frameworks and guidelines on systematic review methdology before you begin. These are available from organisations including Cochrane, the Joanna Briggs Institute, and PRISMA.

Consult these books for information about the systematic review process:
  • Contact

    For more help preparing for your systematic review, talk to library staff.

    Contact a librarian