Skip to Main Content

Librarian involvement in systematic reviews, scoping reviews and other knowledge syntheses


Due to a large number of requests, there may be an extended wait time for librarian involvement in knowledge syntheses

Several organisations that fund or conduct knowledge synthesese such as systematic reviews recommend, if not require, having an information specialist or librarian on the research team (IOMCochraneCIHRCampbell Collaboration). Due to the amount of time required in this process and the need to respect course, thesis, or dissertation requirements, librarian involvement generally differs for academic staff versus students.

The following information also applies to other types of knowledge syntheses, such as scoping reviews or rapid reviews.

General timeline for conducting a knowledge synthesis

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 the final manuscript.

In our experience, scoping reviews can take longer (up to 3-4 years). This will depend on the subject area, the nature and complexity of the question, and the team's size and familiarity with the methodology.

Initial consultation and librarian availability

If you would like to find out if a librarian is available for collaboration, please submit your draft protocol by email to your liaison librarian.

Depending on capacity, the nature of the project and the timeline, librarian involvement may take the form of collaboration and co-authorship, or it may take the form of methodological guidance and support with data collection (aka comprehensive searching). This will be discussed at the initial consultation. Teams with clearly written protocols will be prioritized.

The purpose of the initial meeting is to:

  • Discuss and clarify the refined research question, which will be the basis of the knowledge synthesis

  • Establish that no relevant up-to-date knowledge synthesis of sufficient quality currently exists or is in process

  • Discuss relevant articles

  • Discuss:

    • search parameters such as inclusion/exclusion criteria and justifications for limits (e.g., publication date)
    • databases to be searched
    • inclusion of grey literature and other sources 
    • responsibilities for recording of numbers for PRISMA diagram
    • record management strategy
    • how results will be passed to research team
  • Agree on timeline

Librarian roles

There are many steps to conducting a systematic review; more information about the process can be found on our guide.

Researchers conducting biomedical knowledge syntheses may wish to consult the ICMJE statement on “Defining the Role of Authors and Contributors” for more information or clarification.

Note: A librarian who accepts responsibility for the steps marked with an asterisk (*) below should be offered co-authorship of the final publication. The librarian may accept or decline co-authorship at their discretion.

For more limited involvement, an offer to acknowledge the librarian may be made. The librarian may accept or decline the acknowledgment at their discretion.

Librarians may be involved in any or all of the following steps in the knowledge synthesis process:

  1. Formulating a suitable research question
  2. Checking for the existence of published or in-process knowledge synthesis on the same topic
  3. Designing the search strategies and arranging for peer review
  4. Running searches in appropriate bibliographic databases
  5. Providing guidance on searching the grey literature
  6. Providing citations for all search results in agreed upon format
  7. Participating in compiling the PRISMA flow diagram
  8. Re-running the search to retrieve newly published information
  9. Writing the methods section of the resulting manuscript
  10. Reviewing the final manuscript

Schulich Librarians

Profile Photo
Schulich Librarians
Schulich Library of Physical Sciences, Life Sciences, and Engineering

Macdonald Campus librarians

Profile Photo
Macdonald Campus Librarians
Macdonald Campus Library

McGill LibraryQuestions? Ask us!
Privacy notice