Background: The systematic review is becoming an increasingly popular and established research method in public health. It is now widely considered within policy and practice circles to be a good way of making research evidence accessible and useable. Obtaining systematic review skills are therefore becoming a common requirement for most public health researchers and practitioners. However, most researchers still remain apprehensive and fearful about conducting their first systematic review. This is often because an “ideal” type of systematic review is promoted in the systematic review methods literature.
Methods: Drawing upon an extensive practical experience of conducting various types of systematic reviews of complex social interventions in the field of public health policy, this brief guide is intended to help dispel these concerns by providing an accessible overview for novices of a “real” approach to conducting systematic reviews.
Results: It discusses what a systematic review is and how definitions vary. It describes the stages of a review in simple terms. It then outlines five “do’s and don’ts” of the method in practice outlining debates and potential ways to save time and resources.
Conclusion: It concludes with a reflection on the flexibility and value of the method.