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Systematic Reviews: Systematic Reviews for Social Sciences

Systematic Review Process

1. First read the “Systematic Review Overviews” and “Planning” section of this Guide to get familiar with the systematic reviews, and decide whether SR is the best type of review to answer your research question. It is important to know the difference between a Systematic Review and a literature review conducted in systematic ways.  If you are interested in the latter, read the how-to books on literature reviews featured in here.  

2. Find the systematic reviews in your field (or on your topic), and read them.

3. Read the books on how-to’s of SRs such as “Systematic Reviews in the Social Sciences”

4. Check out SR Registries to see if there are any ongoing SR projects. If you are conducting a Scoping Review, consider registering your Scoping Review at Open Science Framework.  PROSPERO does not accept scoping reviews.

5. Schedule a meeting with your liaison librarian to discuss your search strategy. 

How to Find Systematic Review Studies

Campbell Collaboration
The international Campbell Collaboration (C2) is a non-profit organization that aims to help people make well-informed decisions about the effects of interventions in the social, behavioral and educational arenas: Methods, Business & Management, Crime & Justice, Disability, Education, International Development (including Nutrition), Knowledge Translation & Implementation, and Social Welfare.
         Training resources
         Searching for studies: A guide to information retrieval for Campbell Systematic  Reviews 
             An article that explains how to search Campbell Library

Center for Reviews & Dissemination (from University of York)
Systematic reviews and associated economic evaluations on population health to inform health policy and practice

Clearinghouse for Labor Evaluation and Research (CLEAR @ US Department of Labor)
Identifies and summarizes research on labor topics, including descriptive statistical studies and outcome analyses, implementation, and causal impact studies.

Environmental Evidence Library of Evidence Synthesis (from Collaboration for Environmental Evidence)
Systematic reviews and systematic maps of environmental issues approved by the CEE.

EPPI Centre (Institute of Education @ University College London, UK)
Evidence for Policy and Practice Information and Co-ordinating Centre (EPPI-Centre) is for developing methods for systematic reviewing and synthesis of research evidence.  Explore
      Knowledge Library for a list of systematic reviews conducted and supported by the Centre and Database of Promoting Health Effectiveness Reviews (DoPHER)

Evidence Aid
Systematic reviews of relevance to natural disasters, humanitarian crises or major healthcare emergencies that include health outcomes. Collections include the Health of refugees and asylum seekers in Europe, Zika, COVID-19, Ebola, Windstorms, and Prevention and treatment of acute malnutrition.

International Initiative for Impact Evaluation (3ie)
Database of primary studies and systematic reviews in international development.

KTDRR's Registry of Systematic Reviews (Center on Knowledge Translation for Disability and Rehabilitation Research @ American Institutes for Research)
A registry of systematic reviews on disability and rehabilitation topics

Source:  Evidence Portals and Databases page at  Campbell Collaboration

To find systematic reviews already published on your topic or in the field, search article databases such as:

      ASSIA: Applied Social Sciences Indexes & Abstracts 
      Medline (Ovid)      
      PAIS Index (Public Affairs Information Service Index)
      Social Sciences Premium Collection (ProQuest)
           Search across a range of ProQuest’s specialist index and full-text social sciences databases, covering subject areas including Politics, 
             Sociology, Education, Linguistics, and Criminal Justice

Once log on to the database:

1. Enter keywords for the topic

2. Add search terms for systematic review*:

Systematic review  
      Systematic literature review
      Systematic scoping review
      Systematic narrative review
      Systematic qualitative review
      Systematic evidence review  
      Systematic quantitative review  
      Systematic meta-review  
      Systematic critical review  
      Systematic mixed studies review  
      Systematic mapping review
      Systematic Cochrane review
      Systematic Campbell review
      Systematic search and review  
      Systematic integrative review

        *Source: Adapted from PubMed search filter for Systematic Reviews

3. Depending on the topic and the field,  use alternative search terms relative to systematic reviews, instead. For example, for non-clinical studies of effectiveness such as policy or program evaluations *: 

      Quasi-experiment or quasi-experimental
      Comparison group or comparative study
      Policy experiment
      Natural experiment
      Policy evaluation
      Social experiment
      Interrupted time series, time-series studies, time series analysis(ITS),
      Before and after study, controlled before and after study (CBA)
      Longitudinal study, cohort study
      Impact evaluation, impact assessment, outcome evaluation

*Source: Petticrew, M., & Roberts, H. (2006). Systematic reviews in the social sciences  : a practical guide. Blackwell Pub.

Connect search terms of a similar concept by Boolean Operator OR, and search terms of a different concept by Boolean Operator AND, then run Search. 

Search Example  At EconLit or PAIS Index database
(healthcare OR "health care" OR "health services") AND ("impact evaluation" OR "impact assessment" OR "outcome evaluation" OR "program evaluation" OR "policy evaluation")    

Social Science Reference on Systematic Reviews

Search this Social Sciences research tool to learn about what a systemic review is, how to conduct it, and what tools help you to do it.

Campbell Collaboration Systematic Review

Mission: "The Campbell Collaboration promotes positive social and economic change through the production and use of systematic reviews and other evidence synthesis for evidence-based policy and practice."

Campbell Collaboration’s core areas of focus:

  • crime and justice
  • education
  • international development
  • social welfare

What is a Campbell Systematic Review and what must it contain?

Evidence Synthesis Tools


Campbell Methods Series:

  • Searching for studies: a guide to information retrieval for Campbell systematic reviews
    • "This guide’s fundamental premise is that information retrieval is an essential component of the systematic review process, analogous to the data collection phase of a primary research study, and requires the expertise of TSC, an information specialist (IS) or a librarian" (Kugley et al., 2017, p.8).
    • The guide focuses on searching for studies on the effectiveness of interventions (p.10)




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