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Public Health: Literature Reviews

CUNY School of Public Health

What is a Systematic Literature Review?

If you are doing a literature review as part of your capstone project, please see this document for guidance on format and structure.

What is a literature review?

There are different types of literature reviews, for an overview on the differences between them please see this page. This page focuses on systematic literature reviews. At its most basic, this type of review is a secondary study that summarizes research on a specific topic by means of explicit and rigorous methods. These are based on previously published works in the field and do not include new data or experiments. 

Systematic reviews use a formal process to identify, select, appraise, analyze, and summarize the findings.

Try starting out by formulating and defining a clear, specific research question. The PICO Framework (standing for Population/problem, Intervention, Comparison and Outcome) is a guideline for focusing and answering health-related questions, and a well-formed clinical question covers these areas: 

        PICO chart

 

Developing a Protocol

What is a literature review protocol? Essentially, it is a document prepared before a review is started that serves as a guide to carrying it out. It describes the rationale, hypothesis, and planned methods of the review. The protocol should contain specific guidelines to identify and screen relevant articles for the review as well as outline the review methods for the entire process. 

Why make a protocol for you literature review? 

          The key elements of a protocol are:

                 1. Background/purpose

                 2. Objectives/review question

                 3. Methods

                          a. Selection criteria (such as: type of intervention, type of outcome, population of studies, types of studies,  types of publications, publication dates, language, and location)

                          b. Search Strategy

                          c. Data Collection

                          d. Displaying data

                          e. Analysis and synthesis

 

A good way to develop a protocol is to use PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses). PRISMA is a set of reporting standards for sharing your findings with the research community.

Use the PRISMA checklist and the PRISMA flow chart to help make sure your review is as thorough as possible.

See the full PRISMA statement here.

Below are some examples and templates for review protocols.

Protocol template from the World Health Organization

Protocol template from Cochrane 

Protocol guidelines from the Campbell Collaboration