Guidelines for Systematic Reviews
Provide a descriptive title for the systematic review.
Objectives of the Systematic Review
- State the focused clinical question and describe what we want to find out and report on about this question relative to the topic.
- If the focused question is completed as part of a systematic review, include the importance of the focused question relative to the overall topic.
Statement of Problem (formulation of the topic for the systematic review)
- What is the problem addressed by the focused question/topic?
- What significance does addressing this problem have for the following items?
Please address areas as appropriate.
- The clinical and community-based practice of OT
- The education and training of OT students
- Refinement, revision, or advancement of knowledge, theory, or research
- Program development
- Societal needs
- Health care delivery and health policy
- Coverage of payment for occupational therapy services at local, state, and national levels.
Keeping in mind the expectations and standards of a peer-reviewed scholarly journal, critically synthesize the background information and literature for the problem addressed. What is currently known about the problem and what is not yet known? Provide relevant definitions and descriptions of the intervention and approach, as needed. Discuss how this systematic review will contribute to our understanding or resolution of the problem addressed.
Methods for Conducting the Systematic Review
In this section, describe the following:
- Search strategy, including inclusion and exclusion criteria and screening procedures
- List who conducted the search (e.g., independent librarian, librarian associated with author’s institution).
- Procedures for identification and collection of articles
- List databases and other information sources used to identify relevant studies (e.g., hand-searching reference lists and tables of contents, contacting content experts).
- Approach to appraisal of articles to be included in the review
- Quality control/peer review process.
NOTE: For AOTA-sponsored projects—narrative summaries of focused questions on a topic that will be submitted together as a group of articles—the methodology section will be developed in one of the manuscripts and referenced by the others.
This section has two parts:
- The first part is the Evidence Table—a snapshot description of each study’s characteristics and a critical appraisal of study findings and limitations. See a sample of an Evidence Table and Guidelines for completing an Evidence Table here.
- Systematic reviews often contain many articles, and a full evidence table may be long. Depending on the number of pages allocated for a given article in the journal and the length of the narrative text, the Evidence Table may be limited to selected articles from the systematic review. When selecting articles, consider including those at the highest level of evidence and content most relevant to the field of occupational therapy.
- The second part is a narrative synthesis of findings from all studies viewed as a group from an evidence-based perspective. This is the major aspect of your results because this section provides the reader with a synthesis of the findings written in scholarly, narrative prose. In other words, keep in mind that readers will typically find this scholarly analysis to be the critical component of the systematic review. This section is what will be written for the results section to complement the Evidence Table.
To synthesize the articles and create the results:
- Organize studies according to themes. Organize and group studies within the themes, rather than report on results of individual studies.
- Synthesize by answering the question, “What do we know, from an evidence-based perspective, about specific dimensions of the focused question? The synthesis must reflect the strength of the findings in relation to the types of study design (Level) and the methodological weaknesses present (biases and study limitations). Although there can be study limitations at all levels, please keep in mind that results from a Level I, II, or III study will provide stronger evidence than results from Levels IV or V. The strongest evidence (I, II, and III) should be presented first, followed by weaker evidence (IV and V). When there is adequate evidence from Levels I, II, or III, then Levels IV and V may not need to be included. If themes are used to summarize the findings, results should be reported by Levels within these categories.
Discussion and Implications for Practice, Education, and Research
This section is an opportunity for reviewers to interpret the evidence synthesis (results of the review) for practice and to develop implications for practice, education, or future research.
End this section of the article with a response to these questions:
- Do the findings warrant further research, and are there gaps that need to be filled? IF YES, what kind of questions and directions?
- What are the strengths and limitation of the systematic review?
- What principles or fundamental conclusions can be applied to practice, education and research from the review?
In addition, provide a section summarizing the implications of the findings for occupational therapy practice. The section should include a bulleted list of the key points.
If the systematic review is slated to be published in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy, please refer to the Guidelines for Contributors to AJOT, available at http://ajot.submit2aota.org/journals/ajot/forms/Ajot_guidelines.pdf for information on editorial style. Authors of evidence reviews that will not be published in AJOT should still refer to the AJOT author guidelines and disregard the information specific to the journal (e.g., descriptions of types of articles).