About Systematic Reviews

Selecting Studies for Systematic Review: Inclusion and Exclusion Criteria

Automate every stage of your literature review to produce evidence-based research faster and more accurately.

Learn More

There are many steps involved in conducting a thorough, efficient, and reputable systematic review. To ensure that your final review is reliable and well regarded, you may want to follow a systematic review process that ensures your final product is of a high standard. For example, you may want to stick to qualitative systematic review guidelines, particularly if you are going down the route of not using an automated review tool like DistillerSR.

One factor that can help make sure your review is of high quality, is the effective and appropriate selection of inclusion and exclusion criteria to be used in the systematic review. This vital factor has an impact on what is discussed and debated in your review. In this article, we explore what these criteria actually are, how you establish them, and why they are critical to the final publication.

What Are Inclusion And Exclusion Criteria?

Before identifying what criteria to include and what to exclude, it is always beneficial to establish what exactly is meant by both of those terms. In short, inclusion criteria are the characteristics that define the population eligible for a study, or that define the studies that will be eligible for inclusion in a systematic review. In contrast, exclusion criteria are a set of characteristics of studies that will not be included in the review. These inclusion and exclusion criteria help to evaluate the merit of the review in question.

How Do You Choose Inclusion And Exclusion Criteria?

Generally speaking, it is best to choose the inclusion criteria of your systematic review after you have determined what research question you are hoping to answer. When you choose the criteria to both to include and (importantly) exclude studies, your research question sets boundaries to it, so that the eligibility criteria are neither too broad nor too narrow.

If a question is too broad in scope, its findings can become a little superficial and open to debate. It is a good idea to keep that in mind when choosing your criteria. Constantly ask yourself when picking criteria, will this help me target my research question and subsequent findings better? If it does not, it may be better to exclude it so that you include only what is crucial to support your findings.

Learn More About DistillerSR

(Article continues below)

Why are Inclusion And Exclusion Criteria Important In Systematic Review?

When you define what your inclusion criteria are, and outline what your exclusion criteria are, you are improving the chances of your systematic review producing reliable results. By identifying what can and cannot be included in your review, you reduce any ambiguity in your findings. When you reduce ambiguity, your findings are far more persuasive and less subject to debate, or criticism. As a result, you are ensuring that all the time you spent on your systematic review was worthwhile and any costs were worth the expense.

Appropriate choice of inclusion and exclusion criteria is also essential to prevent any inherent selection bias. Again, such biases can result in your final review losing its persuasive power, as your results are not considered reliable. An inherent bias can mean your findings and results are liable to a ‘data mining’ style scenario, where your research question cannot be answered fairly. It could mean that your research does not take into account key variables that may have better informed your final discussion.

In short, inclusion and exclusion criteria selection is not only important it is essential. By making effective selections, you guarantee that your research’s validity cannot be questioned.

Selecting Studies for Systematic Reviews

Conducting a systematic review can be a time-consuming process to generate evidence around specific areas of research. As a result, it may be tempting for some authors to make quick selections with regard to inclusion and exclusion criteria. This lapse in judgment could prove detrimental to the review process.  Exclusion and inclusion criteria optimize the scope of your research and provide the necessary merit to your research question.

The entire process is extremely labor-intensive. However, by utilizing automated tools like DistillerSR, you will quickly streamline the entire systematic review procedure, including establishing inclusion and exclusion criteria. As a result, you can focus on drawing conclusions from your review quickly and efficiently, and at a much-reduced cost.

3 Reasons to Connect

Resources & Industry insights
Systematic Review Best Practices
Events & Webinars

Follow Us