About Systematic Reviews

How Do You Organize a Systematic Review

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A systematic review is a methodology that aims to answer a focused research question by gathering, assessing, and synthesizing relevant existing data on the topic. It’s extremely valuable in evidence-based research, and it guides practices and standards in the fields of medicine, education, social studies, etc.

This is why there’s always a high standard attached to it, which must be upheld all the way through the presentation of findings. All types of systematic reviews in research, then, must be properly organized so that readers can easily understand the study and its conclusions and derive the necessary information it intends to share.

Steps In A Systematic Review

Completing a systematic review can take months or even years. It follows a rigorous process that takes measures to ensure that the review is accurate, balanced, and comprehensive. This includes:

  • Defining the research question
  • Checking for existing reviews or protocols
  • Assembling a team
  • Developing and registering a protocol
  • Conducting a thorough literature search
  • Selecting relevant studies
  • Critically appraising selected studies
  • Performing data extraction
  • Assessing, synthesizing, and analyzing results
  • Interpreting findings
  • Writing the paper

It can get a bit more tedious if you have to do other related tasks in between, such as a scoping review or a meta-analysis (both of which aren’t always necessary; so make sure to ask “Does this systematic review need a meta-analysis?” before applying it to your own). That said, there are some strategies that you can take to lessen the overall labor intensity, such as using data extraction tools like DistillerSR.

How To Organize A Systematic Review

After appraising, extracting, and assessing the data you’ve gathered for your systematic review, it’s time to synthesize it—which you must do in an organized manner. There are three main frameworks to organize a systematic review:


The chronological framework organizes the studies in order of their date of publication. For example, you could start with the materials that introduced a certain concept, followed by studies putting that idea to use until you finish with contemporary pieces that elaborate on current-day applications.

You can chronologically organize your systematic review by publication, if you notice that a series of studies are linked within one publication, or by trend.


The thematic framework organizes studies around a topic or issue, rather than the progression of when they were published (though the publication date may still be important here). It emphasizes commonalities in the studies and prompts you to organize your data into the themes where they fit.


The methodological framework focuses on how authors administer their studies, instead of the content therein. This puts together materials with similar methodologies together. For example, if your systematic deals with the topic of treating attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), you would organize studies based on the methods used for treatment following the methodological framework.

Tips For Organizing Systematic Reviews

Organizing systematic reviews is pretty straightforward. But when you need to handle a large amount of data, the task can become overwhelming. Here are some tips to help you manage the workload.

Plan It Out

Even before you begin data gathering, already plan out how you’d like to organize your data. Choose a framework and make an outline. And when you begin to collect studies, make preliminary notes as to where you believe they would fit later on when you have to categorize and synthesize them.

Record Everything

Be meticulous with your note-taking. Mark the studies, jot down your thoughts and keep all of these scribblings in a safe space. You might now realize how valuable these will be down the road!

The Best Way To Organize A Systematic Review

There is no gold standard for organizing a systematic review. Choosing which framework to follow depends on your research. Focus on your topic, then visualize the best way to present your data and findings in a manner that would make them easily understandable, extractable, and adaptable for future readers and researchers. Also know that standard systematic reviews include the well-developed research question, well-specified inclusion criteria, search strategy and databases, data screening, manual search, data extraction, critical appraisal, statistical analysis, and manuscript writing based on guidelines such as PRISMA.

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