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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

The search methods section of systematic reviews and meta-analyses should describe the database searches in detail, including:

  • Databases and respective platforms searched (e.g. PubMed, Ovid MEDLINE, Wiley Cochrane etc.) as well as:
  • Coverage dates for each database (e.g. 1946 to present)
  • Segments of databases searched, if appropriate (e.g. Ovid Embase Classic+Embase from 1947 to present, Ovid Embase from 1980 to present, Ovid MEDLINE including epub ahead of print, in-process & other non-indexed citations from 1946 to present)
  • Date(s) the databases were last searched
  • Any language or date limits applied to the database searches
  • The PRISMA statement (Liberati et al., 2009) suggests that reviewers present the full electronic search strategy for at least one database as an appendix such that it could be repeated

The search methods should also describe in detail:

  • Other resources searched (trials registries etc.)
  • Other methods of searching utilized (hand-searching, cited reference searching, contacting authors to identify additional studies etc.)


  • PRISMA provides an example of how to document information sources and search strategies here on pages W-72 - W-73 (items 7 and 8)
  • The following systematic review published in JAMA Pediatrics documents the search methods and identification of studies according to PRISMA guidelines

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.