How to write a systematic review

Am J Sports Med. 2014 Nov;42(11):2761-8. doi: 10.1177/0363546513497567. Epub 2013 Aug 7.


Background: The role of evidence-based medicine in sports medicine and orthopaedic surgery is rapidly growing. Systematic reviews and meta-analyses are also proliferating in the medical literature.

Purpose: To provide the outline necessary for a practitioner to properly understand and/or conduct a systematic review for publication in a sports medicine journal.

Study design: Review.

Methods: The steps of a successful systematic review include the following: identification of an unanswered answerable question; explicit definitions of the investigation's participant(s), intervention(s), comparison(s), and outcome(s); utilization of PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-analyses) guidelines and PROSPERO registration; thorough systematic data extraction; and appropriate grading of the evidence and strength of the recommendations.

Results: An outline to understand and conduct a systematic review is provided, and the difference between meta-analyses and systematic reviews is described. The steps necessary to perform a systematic review are fully explained, including the study purpose, search methodology, data extraction, reporting of results, identification of bias, and reporting of the study's main findings.

Conclusion: Systematic reviews or meta-analyses critically appraise and formally synthesize the best existing evidence to provide a statement of conclusion that answers specific clinical questions. Readers and reviewers, however, must recognize that the quality and strength of recommendations in a review are only as strong as the quality of studies that it analyzes. Thus, great care must be used in the interpretation of bias and extrapolation of the review's findings to translation to clinical practice. Without advanced education on the topic, the reader may follow the steps discussed herein to perform a systematic review.

Keywords: PRISMA; PROSPERO; evidence-based medicine; meta-analysis; systematic review.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Humans
  • Medical Writing / standards*
  • Meta-Analysis as Topic
  • Orthopedics*
  • Publishing / standards*
  • Review Literature as Topic*
  • Sports Medicine*