Skip to Main Content
Middlesex University LogoMy Subject

Sports and Exercise Science: Systematic Reviews

What is a literature review?

A literature review sets the scene:

It provides an overview of a particular topic
It enables you to survey the current state of knowledge on a topic i.e. what is already known about a topic
And is an opportunity for you to describe, compare and synthesise existing research.

It should be critical, not just descriptive - being critical is particularly important for a systematic review. 

Identify the strengths and weaknesses of your topic
Note areas of consensus and disagreement
Highlight gaps in the existing research i.e. what we know and what we don’t know.
     Systematic Literature Reviews are used in evidence based medicine to ensure that practitioners have the best available evidence in order to decide how to treat patients. Within the health discipline there may be lots of research being carried out, but not necessarily a summary of what has been done.
     Therefore there is a need to bring the research together to see if there is consensus of evidence from trials. A systematic approach is used to ensure that all research evidence is found , appraised and synthesised, often adhering to guidelines on how to conduct a review such as PRISMA.

Clearly defined research question
Comprehensive and exhaustive searching
Transparent research methods e.g. Explicit about how search has been carried out e.g. same filters and search terms so that search can be replicated across different resources .
Pre-specified eligibility criteria to determine what’s included  e.g. only looks at research that looks at experimental trials in England etc.
May include a meta-analysis – statistical analysis of the combined results of quantitative studies i.e. pool all the data from different studies to get an overall answer.

The Cochrane Library

The Cochrane Library is a collection of six databases that contain different types of high-quality, independent evidence to inform health-care decision making. It is the main resource for finding systematic reviews of the effects of healthcare interventions and also provides excellent examples of literature search methodology. It is worth remembering that Cochrane have teams of people who spend years on systematic reviews which is unrealistic in the real world. However the Cochrane Library will give you an idea of what they are like.

Access The Cochrane Library can be accessed via myUniHub > MyStudy > MyLibrary > Databases or at the link below.


Conducting a systematic review

Cochrane Systematic Reviews - Examples of literature searching methodology