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Managing and reporting

Exporting and managing citations

After you have finalized your search and run it in your chosen databases, you will need to download your search results. Each database will have different ways to download and export your search results, so you can consult the database’s help pages if the process is unclear. After your search results have been extracted, you will need to remove any duplicate records and begin screening them against your selection criteria.

  • De-duplication: To save time in the screening process, any duplicate records need to be removed. It is important to track the number of duplicates that are removed, so you have a record of the number of unique records that will be screened.
  • Screening involves looking at each record to see if it meets all of your inclusion criteria and none of your exclusion criteria. It is usually done in two stages, first reviewing just the title and abstract to eliminate the records you can. The second stage involves retrieving the full-text of all the records that remain and re-screening. To reduce bias, it is recommended to have at least two people independently screen all of the records.

Removing duplicates can be done manually in a program like Excel, but it is recommended that you use citation management software or systematic review software. Similarly, the screening process can be carried out in a program like Excel, but systematic review software generally allows blind screening and will track decisions and screening conflicts. Please see the following section, Software for Screening and Managing Citations, for software suggestions.

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Software for screening and managing citations

There are various products available to help you and your review team screen and manage the results of your searches. Some of these are freely available, others require a subscription. Three popular options are outlined below:

  • Rayyan – Free systematic review software that allows for easy import of citations, duplicate removal and blind screening of search results.
  • Covidence – Subscription based product that offers a free trial (one review, maximum of two reviewers and 500 references).
  • DistillerSR – Subscription based product with artificial intelligence powered duplicate removal and exclusion decision checking, as well as templates for data extraction.

See this Systematic Review Software Comparison chart created by the Health Sciences Library at the University of Hawai'i for more systematic review software options and features.

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Quality assessment and meta-analysis

Quality assessment

Quality assessment, also known as critical appraisal, is the next step in your knowledge synthesis journey. After the screening process is complete, you can evaluate the included articles for inconsistencies or biases.

Types of bias that you want to avoid in your systematic review include:

  • Publication bias: the publication or non-publication of research findings based on the results
  • Citation bias: citing or not citing research findings
  • Outcome reporting bias: selectively reporting outcomes of a study based on the nature or direction of results

Questions you should consider when conducting your Qualitative Assessment of an article, include:

  • Was the study performed according to the original protocol?
  • Were statistical analyses performed correctly?
  • Do the data justify the conclusions?
  • Are there any conflicts of interest?

The Joanna Briggs Institute has a checklist and list of software that will help guide you in evaluating your selected studies for any inconsistences or biases.


As part of your systematic review, you can conduct a meta-analysis. A meta-analysis is a statistical method where the results of two or more studies are combined. The objective of conducting a meta-analysis as part of your systematic review is to quantitatively compare the effectiveness of one intervention to another; it objectively summarizes and synthesizes the results of your included studies. It is important to note that conducting a meta-analysis may not be appropriate for all systematic reviews, since there may not be sufficient research and evidence in that domain or for that topic.

For more information on conducting meta-analysis, see: Knowledge syntheses: Systematic & Scoping Reviews, and other review types (University of Toronto Libraries).

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Writing your methods section and PRISMA flowchart

Writing your methods section is an important part of the systematic review process and documenting your search process will be crucial for this part of your review (for more information about documenting your search process, see the "Search logs & reporting" section of this guide).

A widely used reporting guideline called the PRISMA 2020 Statement is useful to consult at this stage of your systematic review. PRISMA can provide you with ways to ensure that your reporting is complete and transparent. It is available as a checklist and flow diagram – links and descriptions are provided below.

  • PRISMA 2020 checklist: The checklist consists of 27 items that are used to address the introduction, methods, results and discussion sections of your systematic review (PDF and Word formats available).
  • PRISMA 2020 flow diagram: The flow diagram shows information flow through different phases of your systematic review. It allows you to map out the number of records identified from databases, registers, and other sources, number of records included and excluded, and reasons for exclusion. There are different templates available (in Word format) for you to use and modify depending on the review type (new or updated), as well as the sources used when identifying the studies in your review.
  • PRISMA extensions: Various extensions of the PRISMA Statement are available to help with reporting various aspects of and/or types of reviews (e.g., scoping reviews, PRISMA for protocols, PRISMA for searching, etc.).

For more information about citing PRISMA please visit the PRISMA page for Citing & using PRISMA.

For information about other reporting guidelines, please visit the section Search logs & reporting.

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