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Evidence Synthesis & Systematic Reviews

Overview

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This guide provides an introduction to evidence synthesis research.

Evidence synthesis refers to a variety of review types that include: Systematic Reviews-brings together comprehensive results from studies to answer a specific question and adheres to a protocol to ensure transparency and reproducibility. Meta-analysis-statistical approach to combining data derived from studies retrieved by a systematic review. Rapid Reviews-apply systematic review methods but use a shortened timeframe to locate and appraise sources. Scoping Reviews-explore research questions to map key concepts and gaps in the literature. Umbrella Reviews-compile evidence based on other reviews to address a broad problem for which there are competing interventions. 

For a quick check to see what type of review might be right for you, visit the Cornell University Libraries evidence synthesis decision tree.

Process

An overview of the evidence synthesis process includes: developing a well-defined research question(s), assembling a team, defining inclusion/exclusion criteria, creating a protocol, conducting searches (peer-reviewed & grey literature), screening to select studies, extracting study data, evaluating studies, and synthesizing to report results (including search strategies).

Evidence synthesis teams may include librarians. Typically, librarians offer two tiers of assistance that includes assistance with designing complex searches, using specialized syntax to search individual databases, reporting/documenting searches, or evaluating existing search strategies.

Two-Tiered Example:

  • Tier 1 Initial Consultation: Librarians offer guidance about types of evidence synthesis (systematic reviews, scoping reviews, etc.), discuss the evidence synthesis process, offer guidance based on reporting standards (e.g., PRISMA), and suggest initial search terms and relevant databases.
     
  • Tier 2 Search Consultation: Librarians assist with protocol development, demonstrate review software tools, conduct database searches, document searches, and/or evaluate existing searches and offer feedback (PRESS). 

Depending on the librarian's level of involvement, it is recommended they receive acknowledgement as either a contributor or a co-author.

Rethlefsen, M.L., Farrell, A.M., Trzasko, L.C., Brigham, T.J. (2015).Librarian co-authors correlated with higher quality reported
search strategies in general internal medicine systematic reviews. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, 68(6):617-626.
10.1016/j.jclinepi.2014.11.025

 Spencer AJ, Eldredge JD. (2018). Roles for librarians in systematic reviews: a scoping review. Journal of the Medical Library Association, 106(1):46-56. https://doi.org/10.5195/jmla.2018.82