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Systematic Reviews: Evidence Synthesis: How Librarians Can Help

A Guide to Conducting Systematic Reviews

Consultant or Co-Author

As you embark on your evidence synthesis project, librarians can help at either the consultant or co-author level.

Collaborating with a librarian as a:


As a consultant, a librarian can step in at different points of your systematic review and:

  • Provide background information and resources on the systematic review process
  • Recommend databases, protocol registration platforms, and citation management software
  • Create search alerts to ensure that new studies are found while the systematic review is in progress.
  • Find existing systematic reviews and protocols to inform your own protocol development.
  • Track down hard-to-find full-text articles for screening and review.
  • Suggest edits for your search strategy. As a consultant, your librarian can provide up to 15 hours of support throughout the project. (These hours may vary depending on the project).


This is our most popular option and one that works best for a lot of students. 

Time Constraints

Below is a detailed chart that breaks down the steps of a traditional systematic review and the librarian co-author’s potential contributions. (Please note that these time estimates may vary depending on the project, and some steps may happen concurrently.)


Co-authoring is a more substantial commitment, and a librarian will typically devote more than a year to partner with you on your systematic review. As a co-author, the librarian will be more hands-on and can:

  • Select databases and gray literature resources
  • Write the search strategy
  • Translate searches to syntax of all databases
  • Perform searches and export them to citation management software
  • Comment on the protocol
  • Perform de-duplication, or train your team on the process
  • Advise on the use of article screening software
  • Write a portion of the methods section specific to searching


Due time constraints, workloads, and librarian availability, the librarian has the right to decline co-authorship. 


A systematic review will typically require a year or more to complete, and librarians’ availability may vary, so please plan ahead and reach out to us as early as you can.

Tasks and Timelines

Steps in a Traditional Systematic Review Estimated Time Investment Potential Contribution of Librarian Co-Author
1. Assemble systematic review team and select project manager Varies Provide guidance
2. Identify appropriate review methodology 2 Weeks Provide guidance
3. Define research question 2 Weeks Provide information on appropriate question frameworks (e.g. PICO)
4. Define inclusion/exclusion criteria 1 week Provide guidance
5. Select databases 1 week Suggest appropriate databases
6. Select gray literature resources 1 week Suggest gray literature resources
7. Write search strategy for “master” database 1 week Lead writing of the search strategy
8. Write and register protocol (written compilation of previous steps) Varies Provide comments on protocol and guide protocol registration process
9. Translate search strategy to syntax 2 of all databases (including gray literature)     2 weeks     Translate search strategy
10. Search and export results into citation management software     2 weeks     Perform searches and export results
11. De-duplicate results  2-4 weeks   Perform de-duplication, or train your team on the process
12. Title and abstract screening     2–3 months*     Recommend article screening software and advise on use of software
13. Retrieve full-text articles     1 month*     Train team on full-text article retrieval
14. Full-text screening     2–3 months*     Provide guidance
15. Risk-of-bias assessment     2–3 months     Provide guidance
16. Data extraction     2–3 months     Provide guidance
17. Meta-analysis or synthesis of results     2–3 months     Provide guidance
18. Write the manuscript     2–3 months     Write information retrieval portion of the methods section

* Timeframe can vary significantly depending on number of citations identified for screening.

Thank you to the Evidence Synthesis Librarians at Cornell for their advice and mentorship. Content on this page was recreated with permission from them. 

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