Skip to main content

Systematic Reviews & Other Syntheses


Librarian involvement in systematic reviews is a practice recommendation by the Institute of Medicine and leading sources of evidence-based information including Cochrane, the Joanna Briggs Institute and the Campbell Collaboration. 

Research has shown that librarian involvement in systematic reviews increases the quality of search strategies (Koffel, 2015) and reporting (Meert et al., 2016; Rethlefsen et al., 2015).

"Work with a librarian or other information specialist trained in performing systematic reviews to plan the search strategy." Standard 3.1.1 of Finding What Works in Health Care: Standards for Systematic Reviews (Institute of Medicine, 2011).

"Expert searchers are an important part of the systematic review team, crucial throughout the review process—from the development of the proposal and research question to publication" (McGowan & Sampson, 2005, p. 74).

Librarian Support at Bracken Health Sciences Library

Advisory consultation is available to all faculty, staff and students. Additionally, collaboration may be available to faculty, or research teams that include faculty, at the discretion of the librarian based on considerations such as whether or not a protocol for the research exists, the proposed time frame for the project, etc.

Update: Due to an unforeseen increase in workload during Covid-19 and current staffing levels, we are currently unable to take on new collaborations for knowledge syntheses (i.e. the librarian is unable to develop and execute database searches and provide search results). We are happy to continue to provide advisory consultation services. If you have any questions or concerns please contact Sarah Wickett, Head Health Sciences Librarian.

To meet with a librarian about support for your knowledge synthesis, please complete the consultation request form.

Advisory Consultation

A librarian can advise on the following:

  • How to determine if a synthesis or protocol on the topic already exists
  • How to conduct a preliminary search to identify 3-5 eligible studies (to assess the feasibility of the review and for search term harvesting)
  • Review question formulation
  • Database/resource selection 
  • Database/resource-specific search methods and techniques
  • Setting up search alerts for new publications
  • Review software (Queen's has an institutional license for Covidence)
  • Search methods for locating grey literature 
  • Supplemental methods for locating studies (hand-searching, searching reference lists and cited reference searching)
  • How to obtain full-text articles available via Queen’s University Library
  • How to obtain full-text articles not available at Queen's via interlibrary loan 
  • How to report search methods according to PRISMA guidelines for transparency and reproducibility
  • How to utilize a citation manager to insert in-text citations and reference lists when writing up your review

Before your first consultation with a librarian: 

You will be asked to complete/provide the following (please give the librarian ample time to review the required documentation).

  1. Complete and return the Synthesis Work Plan document
  2. Provide a protocol for your review (including rationale and inclusion/exclusion criteria, etc.)
  3. Provide a list of relevant search terms for each key concept
  4. Provide 3-5 eligible studies that meet your review inclusion criteria (perhaps identified using a simple/basic search in Google Scholar, Omni, or PubMed/Medline)
  5. Identify which reporting guidelines you will be following for your review
  6. If you plan on utilizing the Queen’s institutional subscription to Covidence review software, please review this 40-minute introductory video.


Update: Due to an unforeseen increase in workload during Covid-19 and current staffing levels, we are currently unable to take on new collaborations for knowledge syntheses. We are happy to continue to provide advisory consultation services. If you have any questions or concerns please contact Sarah Wickett, Head Health Sciences Librarian.

Please note: the following levels of knowledge synthesis support should be negotiated up-front as to whether the librarian’s contribution will be formally recognized through manuscript acknowledgement or co-authorship.

A librarian may agree to do the following (see below for review characteristics for librarian collaboration consideration):

  • Determine if a knowledge synthesis or protocol on the topic already exists
  • Conduct a preliminary search to identify 3-5 eligible studies (to assess the feasibility of the review and for search term harvesting)
  • Develop and execute database/resource-specific search strategies
  • Setup search alerts for new publications
  • Document formal, comprehensive database/resource-specific search strategies for transparency
  • Export search results in desired format (Excel spreadsheet, text or RIS file, etc.)
  • Import search results to Covidence 
  • Assist with search methods for locating grey-literature
  • Assist with additional methods for locating studies (cited reference searching, etc.)
  • Write up the search methods according to PRISMA or other appropriate guidelines


Review characteristics for librarian collaboration consideration:  

 Is the review being conducted under the auspices of a systematic review collaboration (i.e. Cochrane, JBI, Campbell)?

 Has a simliar review already been published recently?

 Can the researcher(s) clearly describe the research question?

 Has the researcher(s) established inclusion and exclusion criteria?

 Does the research question seem manageable in scope (not likely to yield too many eligible studies)?

 Does the research question seem worthwhile (not likely to yield no or too few eligible studies)?

 Does the review type match the research purpose?

 Can the researcher(s) clearly describe the rationale and planned methods of the review?

 Has a protocol been prepared? Will it be registered (e.g. PROSPERO) or published?

 Does the review team plan to follow best practice standards for conducting and reporting reviews such as PRISMA?

 Does the review team agree to a comprehensive search approach (i.e. searching all key databases, employing relatively broad search strategies etc.)?

 Will the screening process involve the decision of two screeners for each item reviewed (at the citation/abstract level and full-text level)?

 Does the research project seem manageable for number of review team members?

 Are the review timelines realistic and feasible?


Higgins, J.P.T. & Green, S. (Eds.). (2011). Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions Version 5.1.0 [updated March 2011]. The Cochrane Collaboration. Available from

Institute of Medicine. (2011). Finding what works in health care: standards for systematic reviews. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.

Koffel, J. B. (2015). Use of recommended search strategies in systematic reviews and the impact of librarian involvement: A cross-sectional survey of recent authors. PLoS ONE, 10(5), 1–13.

McGowan, J., & Sampson, M. (2005). Systematic reviews need systematic searchers. Journal of the Medical Library Association, 93(1), 74.

Meert, D., Torabi, N., & Costella, J. (2016). Impact of librarians on reporting of the literature searching component of pediatric systematic reviews. Journal of the Medical Library Association : JMLA, 104(4), 267–277.

Peters, M. D., Godfrey, C. M., Khalil, H., McInerney, P., Parker, D., & Soares, C. B. (2015). Guidance for conducting systematic scoping reviews. International journal of evidence-based healthcare, 13(3), 141-146.

Peters, M. D, Godfrey, C. M., McInerney, P., Soares, C., Hanan, K., & Parker, D. (2015). The Joanna Briggs Institute Reviewers' Manual 2015: Methodology for JBI Scoping Reviews

Rethlefsen, M. L., Farrell, A. M., Osterhaus 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.