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Systematic Reviews & Meta-Analysis

Learn about the systematic review and meta-analysis process

Elements of a Systematic Review

There are various reporting guidelines that you may follow to make sure all required elements are being reported in your systematic review. Most systematic reviews should contain the following elements:

  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Methods
  • Results
  • Discussion
  • Reference List

See the tabs to right for further explanation of each of these elements.

The abstract is a dedicated section in your review that briefly provides a structured summary of your protocol. The abstract may include a brief description of your research question, objectives, core concepts, search criteria, data sources, conclusions and key findings and search process.

The introduction to a systematic review should include the following:

  • The rationale for the review
  • An explicit statement of the objective(s) and research question(s)

The methods section of the systematic review will discuss the following:

  • Eligibility criteria for the studies, including inclusion and exclusion criteria
  • All databases, websites, or other data sources searched
  • The search strategy for all databases, including any filters and limits used
  • The selections process and how reviewers screened each study
  • Data collection process
  • All outcomes and variables of the data that was sought
  • Study risk of bias assessment
  • Effect measures
  • Synthesis methods
  • Reporting bias assessment
  • Certainty assessment


The results section should summarize the results and findings of search and selection process. Details to include consist of:

  • Study selection results
  • Study characteristics of each study chosen
  • Any risk of bias in the included studies
  • Summary or results for included studies
  • Results of the syntheses
  • Assessment of certainty and risk of bias

The discussion section is similar to the conclusion section of a literature review. It should provide a general interpretation of the results and any limitations of the evidence and review process. 

A reference list at the end of a systematic review is essential. Citing all sources gives credit to the authors of the literature, allows others to find the literature for evaluation or their own research, and helps to avoid plagiarism. For more information on creating a reference list, see our Citation Styles guide.

Other information that may be included are the registration and protocol information of the review. Details of availability of the data, financial support, or competing interests may also be reported.