My guilty pleasure: systematic reviews!!??

As an undergraduate student I wrote my essays by hand and then trekked into uni to write them up in the computer room. I would then print my assignment and place it in the relevant pigeon hole. I did much of my masters by distance when I was living in Australia, and consequently submitting assignments electronically, listening to lecture casts and chatting on online forums seemed rather natural. Now I am doing my PhD – 18 years after starting my undergraduate degree things have changed even more. In order to do my systematic review of the literature I have a relative plethora of new-fangled software and databases I can use. Now I hear some of you muttering under your breath “but a literature review surely basically involves reading a bunch of stuff, what does she need all that for?” Ah well let me tell you, it seemed intimidating but as I have got the hang of it I have been experiencing the occasional serotonin high each time I do get it right. But that doesn’t answer your question. Let me see….


So, I have a list of databases to search. Each database allows you to download the masses of articles you have found. But each database has a different method of doing this. Fear ye not, just google how each one works and lo and behold you can create the rarest of file types (RIS files are currently my favourite). You can also download all the articles you have found directly onto a reference manager system such as Endnote. This seems like another massive hurdle but once you get the setting right, I swear the joy of seeing the article titles flooding in to populate the screen is rather addictive. That is when the serotonin high hits. I got it right.


I have around 10 databases to search. Once all the articles are saved in the reference manager you can check for duplications. Once the duplications have been eliminated that is when the reading begins. Oh what a thrill….I think this is where my next hit of serotonin highs will come in. I do love a list of inclusion and exclusion criteria. It is just so orderly and attractive. I have a beautiful table prepared where I will insert the number of articles I find in each database, and the number of articles which are eliminated after duplication and the number of articles eliminated after screening for the inclusion and exclusion criteria.  I will then create a prisma flow diagram  (basically a really nice flowchart) using revman.

What a guilty (nerdy) pleasure!


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