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Systematic Reviews & Other Syntheses


Before embarking on a systematic review or other synthesis, make sure you have an understanding of reporting standards to help you properly plan and execute your review, particularly if publication is the intent.

Reviews conducted under the auspices of international evidence synthesis collaborations like Cochrane, Joanna Briggs Institute, Campbell Collaboration, and the Collaboration of Environmental Evidence may have additional reporting requirements. Refer to the reviewer manuals and guides from international collaborations as appropriate.

The PRISMA Statement

Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA)

The PRISMA Statement provides guidelines for transparent reporting of systematic reviews and meta-analyses. The PRISMA Checklist presents the preferred layout of systematic reviews and is a helpful resource to refer to throughout the process.

PRISMA Statement extensions have been developed to facilitate the reporting of different types or aspects of systematic reviews, including:

The MOOSE Statement

Meta-analysis of Observation Studies in Epidemiology (MOOSE)

The consensus statement from the MOOSE group proposes a checklist with specifications for reporting that "...should improve the usefulness of meta-analyses for authors, reviewers, editors, readers, and decision makers."

The AGREE Reporting Checklist

Appraisal of Guidelines for Research and Evaluation (AGREE) reporting checklist

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"The AGREE Instrument evaluates the process of practice guideline development and the quality of reporting. The original AGREE Instrument has been updated and methodologically refined.  The AGREE II is now the new international tool for the assessment of practice guidelines. The AGREE II is both valid and reliable and comprises 23 items organized into the original 6 quality domains."

AGREE Reporting Checklist

Institutes of Medicine

Chapter 5: Standards for reporting systematic reviews. In Finding what works in healthcare: Standards for systematic reviews.

Reporting Search Methods

In January 2021, PRIMSA published guidelines for reporting search strategies (PRISMA-S) including a checklist and examples:

Rethlefsen, M., Kirtley, S., Waffenschmidt, S., Ayala, A. P., Moher, D., Page, M. J., & Koffel, J. (2019). PRISMA-S: an extension to the PRISMA statement for reporting literature searches in systematic reviews.

Table 1 PRISMA-S checklist. 

Database name 1 Name each individual database searched, stating the platform for each.
Multi-database searching 2 If databases were searched simultaneously on a single platform, state the name of the platform, listing all of the databases searched.
Study registries 3 List any study registries searched.
Online resources and browsing 4 Describe any online or print source purposefully searched or browsed (e.g., tables of contents, print conference proceedings, web sites), and how this was done.
Citation searching 5 Indicate whether cited references or citing references were examined, and describe any methods used for locating cited/citing references (e.g., browsing reference lists, using a citation index, setting up email alerts for references citing included studies).
Contacts 6 Indicate whether additional studies or data were sought by contacting authors, experts, manufacturers, or others.
Other methods 7 Describe any additional information sources or search methods used.
Full search strategies 8 Include the search strategies for each database and information source, copied and pasted exactly as run.
Limits and restrictions 9 Specify that no limits were used, or describe any limits or restrictions applied to a search (e.g., date or time period, language, study design) and provide justification for their use.
Search filters 10 Indicate whether published search filters were used (as originally designed or modified), and if so, cite the filter(s) used.
Prior work 11 Indicate when search strategies from other literature reviews were adapted or reused for a substantive part or all of the search, citing the previous review(s).
Updates 12 Report the methods used to update the search(es) (e.g., rerunning searches, email alerts).
Dates of searches 13 For each search strategy, provide the date when the last search occurred.
Peer review 14 Describe any search peer review process.
Total records 15 Document the total number of records identified from each database and other information sources.
Deduplication 16 Describe the processes and any software used to deduplicate records from multiple database searches and other information sources.

PRISMA Flow Diagram


Koffel J.B. & Rethlefsen M.L. (2016). Reproducibility of search strategies is poor in systematic reviews published in high-impact pediatrics, cardiology and surgery journals: a cross-sectional study. PLoS One, 11(9):1-16.

Liberati, A., Altman, D. G., Tetzlaff, J., Mulrow, C., Gøtzsche, P. C., Ioannidis, J. P., Clarke, M., Devereaux, J. K. & Moher, D. (2009). The PRISMA statement for reporting systematic reviews and meta-analyses of studies that evaluate health care interventions: explanation and elaboration. Annals of Internal Medicine, 151(4), W-65-W-94. (Note that in order to encourage dissemination of the PRISMA Statement it has been published in several journals).

Meert D., Torabi N. & Costella J. (2016). Impact of librarians on reporting of the literature searching component of pediatric systematic reviews. J Med Libr Assoc,104(4):267-277.

Moher, D., Liberati, A., Tetzlaff, J., & Altman, D. G. (2009). Preferred reporting items for systematic reviews and meta-analyses: the PRISMA statementAnnals of Internal Medicine151(4), 264-269. (Note that in order to encourage dissemination of the PRISMA Statement, it has been published in several journals).

Rader T., Mann M., Stansfield C., Cooper C. & Sampson M. (2014). Methods for documenting systematic review searches: a discussion of common issues. Res Synth Methods, 5(2). doi:10.1002/jrsm.1097.

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. 

Rethlefsen, M., Kirtley, S., Waffenschmidt, S., Ayala, A. P., Moher, D., Page, M. J., & Koffel, J. (2019). PRISMA-S: an extension to the PRISMA statement for reporting literature searches in systematic reviews.

PRISMA 2020!