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Systematic Reviews: Inclusion and Exclusion Criteria

A Guide to Conducting Systematic Reviews

Defining Inclusion/Exclusion Criteria

An important part of the SR process is defining what will and will not be included in your review. 

Inclusion and exclusion criteria are developed after a research question is finalized but before a search is carried out. They determine the limits for the evidence synthesis and are typically reported in the methods section of the publication. For unfamiliar or unclear concepts, a definition may be necessary to adequately describe the criterion for readers. 

Some examples of common inclusion/exclusion criteria might be:

  • Date of publication: only articles published in the last ten years
  • Exposure to intervention/ or specific health condition: only people who have participated in the DASH diet
  • Language of Publication*: only looking at English articles 
  • Settings: Hospitals, nursing homes, schools
  • Geography: specific locations such as states, countries, or specific populations


*note of caution: research is published all over the world and in multiple languages. Limiting to just English can be considered a bias to your research.

What happens if no study meets my inclusion/exclusion criteria?

Empty reviews are when no studies meet the inclusion criteria for a SR. Empty reviews are more likely to subject to publication bias, however, they are important in identifying gaps in the literature. 

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