According to the Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions, a systematic review "attempts to collate all empirical evidence that fits pre-specified eligibility criteria in order to answer a specific research question. It uses explicit, systematic methods that are selected with a view to minimizing bias, thus providing more reliable findings from which conclusions can be drawn and decisions made.
The key characteristics of a systematic review are:
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Systematic review steps:
1. Define your research question
2. Develop inclusion and exclusion criteria
3. Search for studies
4. Select studies according to eligibility criteria
5. Extract data from included studies
6. Assess the quality of the included studies
7. Synthesize and present the results
8. Publish and disseminate the results