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Systematic Review Service

NIH Library Librarians regularly serve as part of systematic review teams. NIH Library Librarians are skilled at:

  • Conducting the literature searches
  • Documenting the search process
  • Managing the search results
  • Writing the methodology section of the review according to PRISMA guidelines or other appropriate standards, and
  • Editing the manuscript to conform to the requirements of the target journal.

Additionally, they can aid with other components of a systematic review such as establishing inclusion criteria, selection of software for screening or data extraction, writing and editing of a manuscript and other tasks, as determined by need and staff knowledge. A full list of services available is included below.

These services are provided to NIH and HHS customers by a NIH Library Librarian. Request a consultation to discuss your systematic review.

According to Cook, Mulrow, and Haynes, "systematic reviews are scientific investigations in themselves, with pre-planned methods and an assembly of original studies as their subjects. Systematic reviews synthesize the results of multiple primary investigations by using strategies that limit bias and random error….These strategies include a comprehensive search of  multiple databases to identify potentially relevant articles and the use of explicit, reproducible criteria in the selection of articles for inclusion and review.  Primary research designs and study characteristics are appraised, data are synthesized and results are interpreted."(1) 

NIH Library Systematic Review Services

The services available are divided into three categories: Initial consultation; Search services; and Post-search services. Each category includes a list of potential services that may be provided to you depending upon your need. The services available is determined by the Librarian’s skill set/knowledge and not all services listed may be available from that person. The NIH Library Librarian will work with other NIHL staff with subject expertise to meet your need.

Initial Consultation

  • Determine if the review is a systematic review or another type of review.
  • Provide guidance on the systematic review process, use of systematic review reporting standards and guidelines (e.g., PRISMA), if desired by requester.
  • Establish scope of review and desired timetable for completion of systematic review.
  • Assist to develop the systematic review protocol and update with literature searching steps.
  • Determine if there are any relevant published research articles or reviews.
  • Advise on use of a citation management tool for a systematic review.
  • Advise on selection and use of appropriate evidence grading tools (e.g., CASP, GRADE, etc.). 
  • Discuss selection of inclusion/exclusion criteria.
  • Assist with finalizing and registering systematic review protocols at a registry site, if appropriate.
  • Advice on the selection and use of systematic review software.
  • Access to Covidence, a systematic review tool. Register for Covidence software

Search Services

  • Assist with formulation of research questions(s). 
  • Formulate concept tables and initiate keyword harvesting.  
  • Test and refine search strategies.
  • Translate into appropriate search syntax, and conduct searches in at least 3 recommended databases (as appropriate) – PubMed/MEDLINE, Embase, and Cochrane at a minimum.
  • Identify and suggest other databases if appropriate for searching.
  • Document search strategies developed, refined and used for final searches including all required details.
  • Export search results to requester’s selected citation management tool (e.g., EndNote, Excel, other).
  • Remove duplicate citations retrieved from literature searches.
  • Provide guidance on importance of searching grey literature. Identify and suggest grey literature, clinical trial registries, etc. for extending search, if appropriate.
  • Set up automated database search alerts for searches conducted.
  • Send to customer: detailed search strategies, EndNote libraries of de-duplicated results.  If systematic review software is used, librarian may import EndNote library file into systematic review software.
  • Complete methodology section of a systematic review or provide data for PRISMA flowchart.
  • Keep copies of all search documentation and results, citations, and information provided to requester.

Post Search Services

  • Draft the literature search steps for the Methods Section (e.g., search design, databases and resources searched, any limitations applied, dates searched, search strategies for one or more databases, etc.).
  • Assist with use of systematic review software (e.g., development of screening forms, establishment of accounts, training help, etc.).
  • Provide guidance on citation screening and creation and use of evidence tables, if appropriate.
  • Participate in screening of citations (e.g., title and abstract, full-text) or management of screening process, if appropriate.
  • Advise and facilitate retrieval of full-text articles for review and data extraction (e.g., downloading, ordering, naming, uploading, etc.).
  • Provide editing and publication submission assistance, which may include guidance for journal selection, editing of entire manuscript, preparing and modifying manuscript bibliographies per the appropriate journal style, creation of evidence tables, etc.
  • Advise on how to ensure PubMed Central (PMC) compliance for NIH or HHS authored manuscripts.

Acknowledgement or Co-Authorship

At a minimum, acknowledgement for systematic review services provided by a NIH Library Librarian is requested for completion of any, but not all steps in the Initial Consultation and Search Services sections listed.

Co-authorship is highly recommended, if the Librarian has provided all Search Services and any Post-Search Services as listed. Co-authorship is in lieu of acknowledgement and recognizes the significant and important contributions of the Librarian to the systematic review.

The International Committee of Medical Journal Editors’ (ICMJE) guideline, Defining the Role of Authors and Contributors, is a helpful resource to determine authorship for a publication.


For any services provided to groups beyond 40 hours in total, services will be charged at the hourly rate for the Librarian’s time. The NIH Library staff member will discuss with you at your initial meeting expectations regarding their level of involvement and time. A list of Librarian's groups is available here.


If you have any questions about the NIH Library’s Systematic Review Service, please contact the Service Lead Alicia Livinski.


(1) Cook, D. J., C. D. Mulrow, et al. (1997). "Systematic reviews: synthesis of best evidence for clinical decisions." Ann Intern Med 126(5): 376-80.  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9054282