Several organisations that fund or conduct systematic reviews (SR) recommend, if not require, having a librarian on the research team (IOM, Cochrane, CIHR, Campbell Collaboration). Due to the amount of time required to provide these services, and the need to respect course requirements, we offer different levels of service for academic staff and students. The following guidelines also apply for other types of knowledge syntheses such as scoping reviews, integrative reviews or realist reviews.
Timeline to complete a systematic review
According to the Cochrane Collaboration, the time required to complete a systematic review varies widely. Research teams should allow for an average of 12 months from initial consultation to production of final manuscript.
Using this service
Librarians may be involved in any or all of the following steps in the SR process:
A librarian who accepts responsibility for those steps marked with (*) above should be offered co-authorship of the final publication. The librarian may accept or decline co-authorship at their discretion. Researchers conducting biomedical SRs may wish to consult the ICMJE statement on “Defining the Role of Authors and Contributors” for more information or clarification.
A Memorandum of Understanding will be signed by the librarian and the researcher at the first meeting, to insure that both parties understand their responsibilities in the project.
Typically, the process of delivering search results for a systematic review involves:
Development of an initial strategy:
After receiving feedback the librarian will:
A librarian will typically require 2 weeks to develop an initial search strategy. The timeline may vary depending on the complexity of the research question. At later stages, further delays may occur depending on such factors as the number of databases considered necessary for the search or technical problems.
Delays in this process, outside of the control of the librarian, such as delayed feedback from the research team and changes to the research question can further affect the originally agreed upon timeline. In this event, it may be necessary for a new timeline to be agreed upon.
If demand for systematic review searching is high it may be necessary for searches to be reassigned to another librarian.
The purpose of the initial meeting is to:
Discuss and clarify the refined research question, which will be the basis of the SR
Establish that no relevant up-to-date SR of sufficient quality currently exists or is in process
Identify key articles
Discuss and determine:
Agree on timeline
Within a typical time period of 2 weeks, the librarian will:
Construct an initial exhaustive search strategy for one database
Send strategy to research team requesting feedback, along with sample (typically the first 100) search results
After receipt of the preliminary search strategy, the research team will:
Provide feedback on the strategy, indicating additional or unnecessary search terms
Indicate any articles of high relevancy identified in the initial sample of results
After receiving feedback from the research team, the librarian will:
Review the feedback, modify the search strategy as necessary, and
Return the revised search strategy to the research team for final approval
Please note: without feedback from the research team, the librarian will not be able to proceed with the SR search.
Following final approval of the search strategy, the librarian will:
Translate the search strategy to the other databases agreed upon previously
Provide citations for search results in agreed upon format
Provide a copy of each search strategy employed during the searching process
Provide the information necessary for the PRISMA Diagram and the methods section, as outlined below
Should a grey literature search be considered necessary, this would typically not be conducted by the librarian. However, the librarian can suggest suitable sources and provide guidance on how to search these sources; this may include the provision of suggested search strategies for individual resources.
None will be conducted by the librarian.
None will be conducted by the librarian.
Contacting key individuals/organizations/companies in a subject area
None will be conducted by the librarian
PRISMA Diagram: The librarian will be responsible for recording the initial number of articles retrieved from each and all databases, and the number of articles in the deduplicated library sent to the research team (depending on who does the deduplication). The research team will be responsible for recording all other numbers.
Methods Section: The librarian will provide sections describing the search methodology for both the abstract and full text of the manuscript
Review final manuscript: As a co-author, the librarian will be given the opportunity to provide final sign-off for the manuscript.
As a systematic review may take many months, it is likely that any searches conducted by the librarian will need to be rerun in order to capture relevant articles published in the intervening period. The librarian will conduct these as necessary.