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This research guide addresses systematic reviews and other evidence synthesis projects. Evidence synthesis (including systematic reviews and other review types within the systematic review family) is a form of literature review. Like all literature reviews, evidence synthesis projects involve collecting previously published information and reading, evaluating, and aggregating the information. Unlike traditional narrative literature reviews, however, evidence synthesis projects involve the following: 

  • Answers a research question by synthesizing information from previously published information either qualitatively, quantitatively, or with mixed methods, using methodological and statistical tools to do so; 
  • Requires a highly regimented, exhaustive, and documented literature search process, intended to be transparent and replicable by others, as part of the overall research methodology; and
  • Uses a priori inclusion and exclusion criteria to select the articles used in the review. This process is also part of its research methodology.

The terms "literature review," "systematic review," etc. refer both to the review process and the published output of that process. 

How this Guide and Our Librarians Can Assist You

This guide introduces the process of conducting a systematic review or other evidence synthesis. As part of that process, librarians can consult with you to:

  • Identify discipline-specific guidance, existing literature reviews, and protocols to inform your process,
  • Recommend databases and gray literature resources to search for the research literature,
  • Craft complex and productive search strategies, and
  • Use citation management software and other tools to collect, organize, and screen records (citations, abstracts).


Our Evidence Synthesis Coordinating Team thanks its academic librarian colleagues engaged in similar work (including those involved in Ebling Library's Literature Search & Systematic Review Services) who have generously answered our questions and informed our presentation of these guidance materials. 

UW-Madison Libraries


Evidence Synthesis Coordinating Team

Dave Bloom
Karen Dunn
Tom Durkin
Jim Jonas
Barbara Sisolak

Contact Us

UW Libraries can assist faculty, staff, and students with Systematic Reviews and other evidence synthesis projects (e.g., scoping reviews, meta-analyses). Current services include search strategy development, and assistance with protocol development and registration, based on librarian time and availability. 

To set up an appointment, please contact us via the Evidence Synthesis & Systematic Reviews Service Form.


Selected Text

The authors of this text provide a companion site of resources. Visit the companion site to access exercises, glossary, and templates. The glossary of terms will download as a .docx file.