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Systematic Reviews

How To Apply

The Full Service is an application-based service, meaning researchers must apply for these services to qualify. The Full Service is only available to those with an institutional status of: Faculty, Staff (GRAs, GAs, not applicable), Resident, Fellow, or Post-Doc. These services are not available to students. For a scope of what the service includes, see Levels of Service.

Formulate your research question/topic 

Formulate your research question as systematic reviews and scoping reviews are based on a scientific question. The systematic review process closely follows the scientific method. Just like in lab experiments, there is a question that is being explored. The question should be objective and not assume the answer. 

For resources to help develop the research topic/question check out the page The Research Question. We also recommend reading Cochrane's Rationale for well-formulated questions

The TMC Library recommends that researchers request literature searches before they submit applications for the Full Service to determine if a systematic or scoping review has already been published on the topic. Researchers can use this literature search to:

a) determine the background and objectives section of the Protocol – the rationale for conducting the systematic or scoping review
b) avoid duplication of work – systematic and scoping reviews have an increased chance of being published when the question is novel

Submit a literature search request with our Literature Search Form

Assemble a team

The TMC Library recommends having at least three people on your team as it is standard practice for search results to be blind-screened by at least two different subject matter experts for inclusion/exclusion during the screening process with the third acting as a tie-breaker for disagreements. 

If your application has been accepted, an initial meeting is required. It is mandatory that the Principal Investigator attend this meeting.

Conduct a search

The Library includes in its criteria for application consideration, whether there has been a systematic/scoping review already conducted on the topic/question within the last 3 years. However, applicants with a strong argument for why the review should still be conducted, will be considered. 

There are several places to search for systematic reviews. The TMC Library encourages you to search for previously published systematic reviews in a few places including:

  • PubMed
  • Cochrane Library
  • Embase

For systematic reviews that are in-process, you can search for registered protocols with the following resources:


Develop a protocol

You can check out protocol templates on the page Planning and Protocols. Protocols are plans for the review, and those who have well-developed protocols will be better prepared for the project. The TMC Library recommends reading Cochrane's rationale for Protocol Development, and how developing a protocol beforehand can reduce the risk of bias in systematic reviews. Please see the page Planning and Protocols.

You can submit your protocol along with your application in the form. You may set up a consultation to discuss protocol resources; however, the researcher is responsible for protocol development. 

Apply for the Full Service

Please use the link to apply for the Full or Basic Service. Please read this LibGuide in its entirety to understand both levels of service. 

What to Expect After You Submit Your Application

Processing time 

You will be notified via email that we received your application and provide an estimated wait time for processing. Processing time is approximately 7 business days. 

The TMC Library Liaison Librarians process the applications for the Full Service. Applications are typically processed in approximately 7 business days, on a first-come-first-serve basis. However, due to the high demand, there may be waiting list times resulting in a queue. The Library will announce longer estimated wait times in this LibGuide and on the page with the application form. You may also be notified of longer wait times via email, if you have submitted an application. 

The Liaison Librarian 

The Librarians will process the application and determine whether a systematic or scoping review already exists on the topic. This is to avoid duplication of effort/work as systematic reviews/scoping reviews take approximately 1-2 years to develop. This means a review that has been published in the last 3 years, still has relevant/timely findings. One of the criteria for having your application denied is the topic/question having been previously published within the last 3 years. Please utilize the resources in "How to Apply" under the section "Conduct a search" to determine whether a review already exists on the topic/question. 

If the application is denied, the applicant will be notified via email with one of the reasoning listed in Reasons for Denying Applications. The Librarian may also encourage the applicant in ways that they could reapply that would strengthen the application and make recommendations for how to get approved. 

If the application is accepted after processing, the librarian will contact the person who submitted the application. 

The initial consultation and intake

If the application is accepted, the liaison librarian will reach out to the applicant to schedule the initial consultation and project intake meeting. At minimum the applicant, the principal investigator (if different from the applicant), and one other person from the team (ideally one of the screeners) must attend the meeting. During this meeting the following is discussed:

  • Introduction to the process by librarian
  • PRISMA explanation
  • Intake form questions for the preliminary search
  • The Protocol
  • How to contact/how to set up future meetings

Applicants who do not submit protocols will have their applications denied. 


The Liaison Librarian will adhere to PRISMA standards for the search and will exhaustively test the search until it has been finalized for translation. The Librarian will be in communication with the research team's primary contact to ask questions, schedule consultations, and update the team on the search's progress. Additionally, if there are any potential issues with the search that may affect deadlines, the librarian will notify the group's primary contact.

After the search has been translated, and the results have been deduplicated; the librarian will deliver the results in the agreed upon format.

Delivery of results 

The TMC Library will deliver results through the following formats: RIS files; RefWorks Projects; EndNote Libraries; and Compressed EndNote Libraries. RIS file types are compatible with Covidence; Rayyan; EndNote; RefWorks; Zotero; Mendeley; etc. The Librarian can send you instructions on how to access/import the file into the team's citation manager.

The Librarian will also deliver the search strategies, the coverage information, deduplication documentation, PRISMA diagram (with relevant data), and a written portion of the methodology section. 


Systematic and Scoping reviews can produce thousands of results, meaning that it takes considerable time to process these results. Journals may request that the search be ran again for updates before publication. Please contact the Librarian who worked with you to coordinate deadlines for any possible updates. Updates do take time, so please contact the librarian as soon as possible if an update is being requested by the Publisher/Journal.

Reasons for Dismissing Applications

An incomplete application can include or be a compound of the following:

  • Lack of a complete topic or well formulated question
    • A research topic developed for a systematic review should have an answerable question. There must be enough literature out there on the topic to actually conduct a systematic/scoping review. The Library recommends using the TMC Library search tutorials to conduct searches to formulate your topic. Searching also helps you determine whether a systematic/scoping review has already been published on the topic or question.
    • You can also check out the Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions on how to develop a research question. 
  • Lack of a team
    • Well prepared teams are necessary for a systematic review. There are many reasons for this, one of the most important being the mitigating and reduction in risk of bias. For more information on this check out what Covidence and Cochrane say about the necessity of teams. Cochrane will not publish a systematic review with a solo author. 
    • The mechanisms built-in to the systematic review methodology include having at least two reviewers for the literature during the screening stages.

The TMC Library will prioritize novel  review questions/topics over those that have systematic/scoping reviews already published on the question/topic within the last 3 years. This is because of the workload, time, and effort it takes to conduct a systematic review. Systematic reviews have found to take on average 67.3 weeks to complete. Developing systematic reviews that address novel questions also increases the chances of having the systematic review manuscript published.

If you are struggling to find systematic reviews previously published and you qualify for literature search services, please feel free to request a literature search to determine whether a systematic review has already been done on your topic before you submit your application.


The Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions states:

A novel review will address a genuine gap in knowledge, so review authors should be aware of any related or overlapping reviews. This reduces duplication of effort, and also ensures that authors understand the wider research context to which their review will contribute. Authors should check for pre-existing syntheses in the published research literature and also for ongoing reviews in the PROSPERO register of systematic reviews before beginning their own review (para. 6).


Those with applications that make strong arguments in why the review should still be conducted, will be considered. What are examples of strong arguments? 

  • If there is a previously published systematic/scoping review on the topic/question and it has foundational issues that can be explicated through critical appraisal, then this is a strong argument. Use the Critical Appraisal tools from the Evaluation page to formulate strong arguments for why the review the applicant is applying for is warranted according to Critical Appraisal reasoning. 
  • Change the research question to formulate a novel research question. The question should be reframed significantly to be considered novel. 


Please note that all interactions with TMC Library staff must follow the Library’s Code of Conduct and adhere to professional standards. For those who who have been accepted for services, the liaison librarian has the right to cancel services if research teams violate the TMC Library's Code of Conduct. 

Due to the high volume of applications and the time intensive nature of systematic reviews, researchers are asked to respond to communications regarding the project. Applications may be dismissed if the librarian has not received correspondence from the primary contact or principal investigator in 4 weeks. If this happens, applicants will need to reapply for services. 

There are requirements that applicants must Accept when filling out the application. If any of these are Denied, then this will result in the application being denied. There are 4 requirements that applicants must accept: 


1. It is required that the Librarian will be listed as a coauthor on any publication resulting from the full systematic/scoping review service. 

As such, the Librarian reserves the right to: 

(A) resign from the team if standards for the search and review process are not followed;

(B) resign from the team, if the principal investigator becomes non-communicative; 

(C) request a protocol from the team before beginning the search; 

(D) review the final draft of the manuscript before it is submitted; 

(E) remove their name from the manuscript if desired.

This is in compliance with criteria for authorship outlined by the International Committee of Medical Journal Editors

2. Systematic/scoping reviews are extremely time-consuming. The TMC Librarian assigned to your Systematic Review may need anywhere from 1-3+ months to develop and test your search strategy, translate it to additional databases, deduplicate, and deliver the results. 


3. It is standard practice for Systematic Review search results to be blind-screened by at least two different subject matter experts for inclusion/exclusion, in order to decrease the possibility of reviewer bias. The Librarian cannot fulfill this role.


4. Systematic/scoping review searches often result in hundreds or even thousands of citations. After the librarian has deduplicated and delivered the results, the researcher is then responsible for managing citations and retrieving the full-text of articles.