Reporting standards for literature reviews in health

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Last Update

  • Updated.jpg 20 May 2017


See also Evidence-based health care | Expert searching | Literature search standards | Systematic review searching | Systematic narrative review methods | The role of health librarians in systematic reviews

Reporting standards for literature reviews in health is a topic of some importance for health librarians especially in an era of heightened scrutiny. High-quality systematic and literature reviews should accurately document all steps of their search process using clear language. Resulting documentation should provide detail such that any knowledgeable librarian or reader could reproduce the searches for a given review. The quality of any report or research should be assessed based on its merits but including the search. Too often the information researchers report in published papers does not adequately reflect the search process that librarians and information retrievalists go through. The reporting standards are meant to address this issue.

Atkinson et al (2015) say that ...a complete description of the literature search, including the criteria used for the inclusion of reports after they have been located, used in a research synthesis or meta-analysis is critical if subsequent researchers are to accurately evaluate and reproduce a synthesis' methods and results. Atkinson et al present focused and detailed standards for reporting the methods used in a literature search. Their guidelines cover five search strategies: reference database searches, journal and bibliography searches, searches of the reference lists of reports, citation searches and direct contact searches. They collate unique recommendations made in existing guidelines for research synthesis, and identify gaps in reporting standards for search strategies. Finally they address gaps by providing new reporting recommendations.

Guides and Standards for Conducting Systematic Reviews

Reporting Standards and Checklists

  • CONSORT - an evidence-based, minimum set of recommendations for reporting RCTs. It offers a standard way for authors to prepare reports of trial findings, facilitating their complete and transparent reporting, and aiding their critical appraisal and interpretation.
  • EQUATOR - links to a number of reporting standards. Is an international initiative that seeks to enhance reliability and value of medical research literature by promoting transparent and accurate reporting of research studies.
  • MOOSE - a checklist summarizing recommendations for reporting meta-analysis of observational studies in epidemiology.
  • PRISMA - (Formerly QUOROM) provides an evidence-based minimum set of items for reporting in systematic reviews and meta-analyses. It includes a 27-item checklist and a four-phase flow diagram.
  • STARD - A checklist and a generic flow diagram for studies of diagnostic accuracy.
  • STARLITE - standards for reporting literature searches.
  • STROBE - an international collaborative initiative that aims to strengthen the reporting of observational studies in epidemiology.
  • TREND - developed to guide standardized reporting of nonrandomized controlled trials.


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