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Systematic reviews

A brief overview of systematic reviews and resources to support producing one.

Interpreting the results

The discussion section is written to help readers interpret the results of a review.

The discussion section should include:

  • A statement of the principal findings 
  • Highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the review
  • The meaning of the results 
  • Implications for practice, policy, and research
  • Any recommendations

Schünemann H, Vist G, Higgins J, Santesso N, Deeks J, Glasziou P, et al. Interpreting results and drawing conclusions. In: Higgins J, Thomas J, Chandler J, Cumpston M, Li T, Page MJ et al, editors. Cochrane handbook for systematic reviews of interventions, Cochrane; 2022.

Purssell E, McCrae N.  How to perform a systematic literature review: a guide for healthcare researchers, practitioners and students. Springer Nature Switzerland; 2020. Chapter 10, Meaning and implications: the discussion; p. 123-38.

Writing the review

A systematic review is a document that is created with the intention of transparency and reproducibility. All steps and decisions made need to be documented. These should be based on the protocol.


The PRISMA Statement is considered the gold standard for reporting how you conducted your systematic review, i.e. writing things up. There are two major components of PRISMA, the checklist and the flow diagram. The Explanation and Elaboration paper gives more detail on using PRISMA. There are also a number of Extensions to PRISMA, intended to provide guidance in specific circumstances such as for scoping reviews, for the details of searching etc. Also see 2 pdf documents below which summarise the elements of PRISMA related to searching.

Occasionally you may have difficulty accessing the PRISMA website. The PRISMA checklist and expanded checklist can be downloaded as supplementary materials to this article. Other materials may be available via the articles listed on the EQUATOR website.

Other reporting standards and examples

Standards for reporting systematic reviews In: Institute of Medicine. Finding what works in health care: standards for systematic reviews. National Academies Press; 2011, p. 195-222.

The Centre for Reviews and Dissemination provide information on documenting the search process in Appendix 3 of their guidance.