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How Do You Structure a Systematic Review Question?

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Whether you are doing a rapid systematic review or any other type of systematic review, you’ll need a review question. Formulating this review question is an essential first step in a systematic review. This question serves as your guide because the evidence you gather must be relevant to it.

Therefore, all types of systematic reviews in research should begin with this question. In this article, you’ll learn how to structure a systematic review question.

What is a Systematic Review Question?

While other types of reviews address general topics, problems, or interests, systematic reviews in nursing, health sciences, and other areas of study are designed to address precise and answerable research questions. In other words, a systematic review question must focus on a specific interrogation. When you clarify your review question, you can specify the type of studies that address the question and come up with the right criteria for including those studies in your review.

A review can address different questions based on the topic at hand. The question you formulate should help you think about the various types of research that could give you the necessary data to address the problem. A good systematic review question should address the most important aspects of the review, including the need, effectiveness, process, correlation, perspectives, and service implementation.

Appropriate clarification of the review question results in the specification of the type of studies that can best address the given question and sets out eligibility criteria for studies to be included in the systematic review. During formulation, one must know that systematic reviews address clear and answerable research questions.

How to Formulate a Systematic Review Question             

Please note that the process of formulating a clear and answerable review question can be long and complex, especially since the question is what drives your systematic review and therefore necessitates extensive considerations. As you structure your review question, you’ll need to do some preliminary searches on it to ensure it’s not a replica of someone else’s work.

These searches will help you know if the review has already been done by someone else, and if so, how you can make yours different. They’ll also help you to scope the available literature to know if there’s enough data on your topic. When you are formulating your review question, make it narrow and specific. Remember that the objective of the review is to gather enough evidence that’s relevant to the topic to help you make an informed decision.

If you discover that there isn’t much literature published on the question, you need to adjust it to cover a wider population. Also, use the FINER (feasible, interesting, novel, and relevant) criteria to formulate your review question. Make sure your review question can be answered under objective features such as time, scope, resources, proficiency, or funding. Also, develop a question that corresponds to more practical and wider interests.

Your review question should answer a prevailing gap in data. Filling this gap is an important part of every systematic review. Be ethical when developing your review question and be relevant. You also need to choose the right framework for developing your review question.

During structuring of review question, one should consider aspects such as needs of people, the impact of interventions, process or explanation, correlation, perspectives (people’s experiences), and service implementation (what is happening).

There are different types of frameworks for this type of work, but the most common one is PICO (population, intervention, comparison, and outcome). PICO is a reminder applied in evidence-based practice, particularly in the field of medicine, to formulate review questions. 

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