Development of a framework to identify research gaps from systematic reviews

J Clin Epidemiol. 2011 Dec;64(12):1325-30. doi: 10.1016/j.jclinepi.2011.06.009. Epub 2011 Sep 19.


Objective: Our objective was to develop a framework to identify research gaps from systematic reviews.

Study design and setting: We reviewed the practices of (1) evidence-based practice centers (EPCs), and (2) other organizations that conduct evidence syntheses. We developed and pilot tested a framework for identifying research gaps.

Results: Four (33%) EPCs and three (8%) other organizations reported using an explicit framework to determine research gaps. Variations of the PICO (population, intervention, comparison, outcomes) framework were most common. We developed a framework incorporating both the characterization of the gap using PICOS elements (also including setting) and the identification of the reason(s) why the gap exists as (1) insufficient or imprecise information, (2) biased information, (3) inconsistency or unknown consistency, and (4) not the right information. We mapped each of these reasons to concepts from three common evidence-grading systems.

Conclusion: Our framework determines from systematic reviews where the current evidence falls short and why or how the evidence falls short. This explicit identification of research gaps will allow systematic reviews to maximally inform the types of questions that need to be addressed and the types of studies needed to address the research gaps.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bias
  • Evidence-Based Medicine / standards*
  • Humans
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Quality of Health Care
  • Research Design
  • Review Literature as Topic*