When I started my first systematic review in 2010, it wasn’t because I had thought deeply about quality of science and wanted to use the gold standard method. No, it was simply on a suggestion from my boss but the experience convinced me of the benefits of conducting systematic reviews. Over the years, I have become even more convinced that we as researchers should raise our game, and aim for the gold standard when we are conducting literature reviews.
There are number of aspects where traditional literature reviews and systematic reviews differ (Table 1). In my opinion, the key difference is transparency. It is ingrained in the systematic review methods and hence, makes replication of the work, one of science’s corner stones, an easy possibility. As a result, anyone who doubts the results can conduct a review of the literature following the original methods or the original review can be updated, after a few years has passed, to evaluate whether the findings are still valid.
Another benefit of transparency is the publication of inclusion/exclusion criteria. Anyone who conducts a literature review needs to decide at some point whether an article is included into the review or not. The decision should be made before the literature search to avoid introducing bias in the selection of articles (and in systematic reviews this is always the case). As human beings we are susceptible to implicit bias, and as we become experts in particular topic, we often have pre-formed opinions about the relevance and validity of articles [2, 3]. As it stands, systematic reviews offer us the way to minimize our biases and improve the quality of our research.
Writer: Sini Savilaakso
- Petrokofsky, G. Can we use the evidence base more effectively in forestry? (2017) In: R. Päivinen and L. Käär (ed.) From forest research to forestry practice – Approaches in leveraging forest research in Northern and Central European Countries. Tapio Report NR 18.
- Higgins JPT, Green S, editors (2011). Cochrane handbook for systematic reviews of interventions. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell. 2011.
- Gøtzsche PC, Ioannidis JPA (2012). Content area experts as authors: helpful or harmful for systematic reviews and meta-analyses? BMJ. 345:e7031.