Reviewing the literature, how systematic is systematic?

Katie MacLure*, Vibhu Paudyal, Derek Stewart

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)
155 Downloads (Pure)


Introduction Professor Archibald Cochrane, after whom the Cochrane Collaboration is named, was influential in promoting evidence-based clinical practice. He called for “relevant, valid research” to underpin all aspects of healthcare. Systematic reviews of the literature are regarded as a high quality source of cumulative evidence but it is unclear how truly systematic they, or other review articles, are or ‘how systematic is systematic?’ Today’s evidence-based review industry is a burgeoning mix of specialist terminology, collaborations and foundations, databases, portals, handbooks, tools, criteria and training courses. Aim of the review This study aims to identify uses and types of reviews, key issues in planning, conducting, reporting and critiquing reviews, and factors which limit claims to be systematic. Method A rapid review of review articles published in IJCP. Results This rapid review identified 17 review articles published in IJCP between 2010 and 2015 inclusive. It explored the use of different types of review article, the variation and widely available range of guidelines, checklists and criteria which, through systematic application, aim to promote best practice. It also identified common pitfalls in endeavouring to conduct reviews of the literature systematically. Discussion Although a limited set of IJCP reviews were identified, there is clear evidence of the variation in adoption and application of systematic methods. The burgeoning evidence industry offers the tools and guidelines required to conduct systematic reviews, and other types of review, systematically. This rapid review was limited to the database of one journal over a period of 6 years. Although this review was conducted systematically, it is not presented as a systematic review. Conclusion As a research community we have yet to fully engage with readily available guidelines and tools which would help to avoid the common pitfalls. Therefore the question remains, of not just IJCP but potentially all published reviews, ‘how systematic is systematic?’

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)685-694
Number of pages10
Journal International Journal of Clinical Pharmacy
Issue number3
Early online date5 Apr 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2016


  • Critical appraisal
  • Data extraction
  • Literature
  • Review
  • Systematic review

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology (medical)
  • Pharmaceutical Science
  • Pharmacology
  • Toxicology
  • Pharmacy


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