Systematic Reviews: The Process

Typical Timeline

Systematic reviews may take up to 18 months to complete. 

See the Timeline for a Cochrane review.  (Chapter 2.3.8, Box 2.3.b, Higgins JPT, Green S (editors). Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions Version 5.1.0 [updated March 2011]. The Cochrane Collaboration, 2011. Available from

6 Steps of a Systematic Review

Step 1:  Initiate the process, organize the review team, develop a process for gathering user and stakeholder input, formulate the research question, and implement procedures for minimizing the impact of bias and conflict of interests (see standards in Chapter 2).

Step 2:  Develop the review protocol, including the context and rationale for the review and the specific procedures for the search strategy, data collection and extraction, qualitative synthesis and quantitative data synthesis (if a meta-analysis is done), reporting, and peer review (see standards in Chapter 2).

Step 3: Systematically locate, screen, and select the studies for review (see standards in Chapter 3).

Step 4:  Appraise the risk of bias in the individual studies and extract the data for analysis (see standards in Chapter 3).

Step 5:  Synthesize the findings and assess the overall quality of the body of evidence (see standards in Chapter 4).

Step 6:  Prepare a final report and have the report undergo peer review (see standards in Chapter 5).

Conceptual Framework. Fundamentals of Systematic Reviews. IN: Finding What Works in Health Care: Standards for Systematic Reviews (full report) Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academies. 2011. pp. 26-27

The Systematic Review Process

          Systematic Review Process Illustration

Adapted under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. from: YourHealthNet, "Navigating Effective Treatments With Systematic Reviews: An online toolkit that will help you understand and develop the skills to explore health research"  developed and published by the Centre for Health Communication and Participation with support from the Australasian Cochrane Centre.