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Systematic Reviews in Education and Psychology: An Introductory Guide

This guide will cover the basics of conducting a systematic review in the social sciences, focused especially on education and psychology disciplines.

Overview of the Systematic Review Process

Please note:  The content in this guide echoes and builds upon the resources and text shared in Systematic Reviews in Healthcare: An Introductory Guide.  Thank you to that guide's creators, Christina Wissinger and Kathleen Phillips, for the opportunity to re-use and build upon their content.

A systematic review is a comprehensive analysis of all known evidence on a given subject. In the words of Siddaway, Wood, and Hedges (2019), systematic reviews are "methodical, comprehensive, transparent, and replicable." Conducted in a highly rigorous manner, sometimes for publication in scholarly venues, they are more involved than the literature searching that students usually conduct in preparation for writing course papers. In the social sciences, systematic reviews typically include the following elements:

  • A clearly defined research question. The research question is often developed after performing preliminary searches on the subject, ensuring that it is viable for a systematic review. Additionally, searches should be conducted to ensure no other systematic reviews exists on the topic.
  • Evidence of a rigorous search process. Systematic searching demands a carefully planned search strategy designed to obtain comprehensive results. This often includes the databases used; the keywords and thesaurus terms searched, and any limits placed on the search. You should also include your search strategy in your methodology.
  • Inclusion and exclusion criteria. Not all evidence found during the search process will be relevant or appropriate to answer the research question. Clearly defined criteria must be used to decide which studies should and should not be included in analysis.
  • Critical appraisal of all included studies. For a study is to be included in the review, the quality of its evidence must be critically appraised.

More About Systematic Reviews in the Education, Psychology, and the Social Sciences

Kogut, A., Foster, M., Ramirez, D., & Xiao, D. (2019). Critical Appraisal of Mathematics Education Systematic Review Search Methods: Implications for Social Sciences Librarians. College & Research Libraries, 80(7), 973–995.