"A scientific investigation that focuses on a specific question and that uses explicit, planned scientific methods to identify, select, assess, and summarize the findings of similar but separate studies. It may or may not include a quantitative synthesis of the results from separate studies (meta-analysis) depending on the available data." (Finding what works in healthcare: Standards for systematic reviews)
"Well-conducted systematic reviews systematically identify, select, assess, and synthesize the relevant body of research, and will help make clear what is known and not known about the potential benefits and harms of alternative drugs, devices, and other healthcare services. Thus, systematic reviews of comparative effectiveness research (CER) can be essential for clinicians who strive to integrate research findings into their daily practices, for patients to make well-informed choices about their own care, for professional medical societies and other organizations that develop clinical practice guidelines (CPGs), and for payers and policy makers.SRs can also inform medical coverage decisions and be used to set agendas and funding for primary research by highlighting gaps in evidence." (Finding what works in healthcare: Standards for systematic reviews)
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Academic research is is a multi-step process that doesn't always go in a straight line; you may find yourself returning to previous stages as you refine your topic. Steps include
We recommend you become familiar with the types of sources required for your research project: