Why do we do systematic reviews? Part 2.

We’ve had 150 votes as to why we do systematic reviews (see this article for details) and the results are:

  1. To see what has been done before, to see if new research is needed – 25.33%
  2. To know if an intervention has any ‘worth’ – 24.67%
  3. To quantify, quite tightly, how good the intervention is – 23.33%
  4. To understand the adverse events associated with the intervention – 20%
  5. To improve the CV – 6.67%

Voters had the choice of voting for more than one reason.  We did have one comment ‘Because the journal expected it’, but I class that as option 1. as the reason the journals ask is to make sure the research is warranted in the first place.

What is clear is that there is a divergence of opinion as to why you carry out systematic reviews.  But this was part of the reason for asking.  It has taken me ages to unpick the reasons for doing a systematic review.  Do other people know or do they just ‘go along’ with systematic reviews as that’s what we do?  I can only assume, for a lot of people, they do it because it’s expected; it’s the ‘done thing’.  This is a depressing conclusion, but gives us something to build on, as we can move forward with our thinking in a more evidence-based way.

My view is that the reason for doing the review should guide the methodology.  To suggest ‘one size fits all’ make no sense, wastes money, is potentially harmful and at times clearly unethical.  That’s a big statement and I intend to expand on this over the coming weeks.  I will unpick each of the 5 reasons, one by one, to give my perspective on them.  I’ll start here with the lowest voted result – to improve the CV.

Only 10 people voted to say the reason for doing it is for their CV.  It was even suggested by one correspondent that this was a tongue in cheek suggestion.  All I can say to that is, no, I was serious.  Clearly anecdotal, but two people I’m very close to who have done systematic reviews did it to help their career.  Sure, they were interested in the topic, but CV building was a clear motivator.  I have a feeling the low number of votes was because people didn’t want to admit to it (but that’s me being biased by my own experience).  In many ways I think doing a systematic review for a CV is an honest option.  By that I think most (if not all) the other options are debatable (that a Cochrane-style systematic review is appropriate) but there can be no doubting a robust systematic review on the CV is useful!


7 thoughts on “Why do we do systematic reviews? Part 2.

  1. Thank you for posting the results. I was one of the people who selected (among others) the CV response. The funding landscape is increasingly competitive and I’ve noticed more funding for knowledge synthesis and review work in the past few years. The skills required to conduct a systematic review will serve researchers well in other endeavours – e.g., further develop the ability to think critically, define questions, appraise evidence, synthesize findings, revisit the literature for contextual factors and interpretation, etc… In cases where the quality of available evidence is very poor, ‘professional development’ might be the best reason for a review!


  2. I think the use of the word “we” in the poll confounded the results – I believe a much greater proportion of people are increasingly doing systematic reviews for their CV. It’s great that people are taking that initiative and developing their skills, but it also means sometimes that it becomes a rushed affair and shortcuts are taken etc.


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