As beginners in academic writing, many of us wondered how to select and review articles and produce the review as a full research paper. Many of us are unaware of a systematic way of conducting and writing systematic review and meta-analysis papers.

You must have seen many poorly written review papers where the authors simply put together similar-themed articles without stating the criteria for selection. You must have also seen a directionless review without knowing what the author is trying to convey from the review. There are also papers where the author randomly brings together a few articles without his/ her own input/ review. These papers are painful to read!

PRISMA helps authors with WHY and HOW to conduct systematic reviews or meta-analyses.

PRISMA- Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses is a tool or a framework to conduct systematic reviews and meta-analyses. It is a systematic method to synthesise and review papers.

The recently updated PRISMA 2020 has 27 checklists for reporting. It provides guidelines on how to write the title, abstract, introduction (rationale and objectives), methods, results, discussion (interpretations, limitations, and implications if any), and other information of the article.

The most important section is the methodology. Many authors tend to overlook the methodology of a review paper.

The methodology section should essentially consist of 9 components:

  1. inclusion and exclusion criteria of the articles,
  2. databases or sources from where the articles are taken,
  3. search strategy,
  4. the selection process by the author/s,
  5. data collection process by stating the method used to collect the reports,
  6. data items by listing and defining the outcomes for which the data was sought
  7. any methods used to assess risk of bias
  8. synthesis method
  9. reporting bias assessment

The section consists of other components that may be included depending on your review.  

Writing a review paper is similar to full-time research project. Systematic reviews and meta-analysis are effective tools to provide accurate and reliable evidence for policy makers and practitioners. Authors must plan and follow the checklist from the beginning itself.

Note down all the steps you followed and the outcomes of each process. The purpose of writing a systematic review will be efficiently served if done methodically.

The full guideline may be found here:

The PRISMA 2020 statement: an updated guideline for reporting systematic reviews

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