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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.

Welcome to Systematic Reviews!

Please note: this guide reuses and builds upon content from a prior library guide on systematic reviews in health care by Penn State librarians Christina Wissinger and Kathleen Phillips. Here, we have adapted their material to assist Education faculty and students.

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." Sometimes conducted for publication in scholarly venues, they are much more rigorous than the literature searches that students usually do when writing course papers. In Education and Psychology, systematic reviews typically include:

  • A clearly defined research question. The research question is often developed after performing preliminary searches on the subject, ensuring that it is viable and that no other systematic reviews exist on the topic.
  • Evidence of a rigorous search process. Systematic searching demands a carefully planned search strategy, described in the methodology section of the review.. This often includes the databases used; the keywords and thesaurus terms searched; and any limits placed on the search. 
  • Inclusion and exclusion criteria. Not all evidence found through a search will be relevant to the research question. Clearly defined criteria must be used to decide which studies should be included in analysis.
  • Critical appraisal of all included studies.

To Learn More About Systematic Reviews in Education and Psychology

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.