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Systematic reviews in the Social Sciences: searching and identifying the literature


(i)            Appoint a team – include a librarian!

(ii)           Define scope and aims of the review. Identify the key interested parties such as practitioners, policy makers, researchers and service users.

(iii)          Write the protocol – a detailed description of methods to be used in the review process to ensure transparency and to eliminate bias.

(iv)         Plan a search strategy – must be comprehensive. (This is where a consultation with your librarian will be helpful)

–          Identify all bibliographic databases of relevance

–          Identify all significance types of publication such as government reports, journal articles, “grey” literature.

–          Identify key search terms and database subject headings. Be aware of search techniques to maximize relevant results (Boolean operators etc)

(v)          Synthesis – read literature and combine results

(vi)         Report & disseminate results

 Need more help?

The following organisations specialise in social science systematic reviews and their websites contain much advice and guidance:

Campbell Collaboration   – this is an international research network which specialises in systematic reviews in education, crime and justice, social welfare and international development.

Centre for Reviews and Dissemination   – CRD specialise in health care systematic reviews.

Evidence for Policy and Practice Information and Co-ordinating Centre (EPPI-Centre)  – part of the Social Science Research Unit at the Institute of Education, University of London.  EPPI Centre specialise in systematic reviews of public policy.

Evidence Network, King’s College London includes a useful collection of Working Papers.

Social Care Institute for Excellence  – contains a section on methodology for systematic reviews in social care at

 Other readings:

Cooper, H. M. (2010). Research synthesis and meta-analysis: A step-by-step approach (4th ed.). Los Angeles: Sage.

Gough, D., Oliver, S., & Thomas, J. (2012). An introduction to systematic reviews. London: Sage.

Noblit, G. W., & Hare, R. D. (1988). Meta-ethnography: Synthesizing qualitative studies. London: Sage.

Petticrew, M., & Roberts, H. (2006). Systematic reviews in the social sciences: : A practical guide. London: Blackwell

Victor, L. (2008). Systematic reviewing. Social Research Update , 54. Retreived from