Software for systematic reviewing

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Levels I through III are the "data extraction" components of the SR, and require robust software for inclusion/exclusion process
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Last Update

  • Updated.jpg 30 April 2016


See also Bibliographic citation software | Expert searching | Search filters & hedges | Hand-searching | Network meta-analysis | RefWorks | Systematic reviews | Systematic review librarian

What is the purpose of a systematic review (SR)?

"...a systematic review seeks to identify as many potentially relevant studies as possible that meet the research question for a given topic" — NHS Centre for Reviews and Dissemination

Before starting your systematic review

  • Before undertaking a systematic review, read a good introduction on the process in order to get guidance on starting your review
  • In planning your review, consider registering the protocol first at the Cochrane Collaboration (or, its equivalent such as PROSPERO). Registering your protocol will improve the transparency of all research, and prevent unnecessary duplication.
  • It should be mentioned that research teams should speak to a statistician before using any of the programs listed below. Once you have discussed your statistical needs with an expert, consider using one of the following tools to manage your citations and inclusion/exclusion processes:
  • Abstrackr and Open Meta-Analyst The Center for Evidence-Based Medicine @ Brown
  • Covidence Covidence is a not-for-profit service dedicated to improving the use of evidence in healthcare decision-making. The service partners are The Alfred Hospital, Monash University, National ICT Australia and the University of London. Covidence is run by a team in Melbourne, Australia comprising systematic reviewers, healthcare researchers and software development and service professionals.
  • DistillerSR Systematic Review and Literature Review Software from Evidence Partners
  • EPPI-Reviewer Social Science Research Unit, Institute of Education, UK
  • Early Review Organizing Software (EROS) Institute of Clinical Effectiveness and Health Policy
  • Joanna Briggs Institute (JBI) SUMARI University of Adelaide
  • Review Manager (RevMan) (Cochrane Collaboration software used to prepare Cochrane Reviews)
  • Systematic Review Data Repository Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ)

See also

Abstrackr and Open Meta-Analyst

  • Developed by the Center for Evidence-based Medicine (Brown School of Public Health)
  • Assists with abstract screening process and statistical analysis



  • DistillerSR is the the world’s most used systematic review software, and comes with unlimited expert support
  • View screen abstracts and full-text; data extraction; generate tables in Excel
  • Good capacity for handling citations with no problems


  • EndNote Web is able to run duplicate checks (slow); split library into 3 for screening and marking results and used EPPI for analysis
  • fine for 100K records as long as PDFs were not attached; library of 40,000 was slow
  • not recommended for inclusion/exclusion process

EpiGear International

  • EpiGear International is home to MetaXL, a free Microsoft Excel for Windows add-in for meta-analysis.
  • MetaXL supports all major meta-analysis methods, and in addition implements two alternatives to the flawed random effects model.
  • MetaXL also supports a simple yet powerful way to implement network meta-analysis.

EPPI reviewer<

  • EPPI-Reviewer 4 is maintained by the EPPI-Centre, Social Science Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London
  • support given is good; recommended tool as it carries out whole process; de-duplicating is slow
  • subscription fee payable; flexibility to handle data collecting and multiple reviewers accessed by signing online
  • frustrations with EPPI; handbook not detailed enough so you must learn by trial and error (they have Youtube videos)
  • data extraction can take some time and only after you've used EPPI reviewer are you aware of some of the quirks of how it will present data
  • open to human error - if a particularly box or subcategory isn't ticked then the data extracted on that variable won't show up in tables. It gives no warning and its hard to spot when you've made this mistake particularly if you're having to click dozens of boxes. This is particularly problematic if you're trying to make statements like this many studies looked at this behaviour or this many studies used this type of intervention etc. as its hard to be confident the numbers you're getting are accurate.
  • claims it has functionality to compare data extraction between two reviewers extracting in duplicate I found this really unhelpful and that it was much easier to compare reviewers data extraction manually
  • poor with dealing with studies where there are multiple publications for one dataset - it provides little help


  • workshop at the Oct Cochrane Colloquium (EROS dialogues with RevMan: data extraction, quality assessment and more )
  • Web-based software designed specifcially to perform the first stages of a systematic review.
  • Discuss in the forums
  • Price: Free


  • us a web-based platform for extracting data from websites without writing code
  • Users create an API using their point and click interface; users navigate to websites and teach the app to extract data by highlighting examples of data from the page; learning algorithms then generalize from the examples to work out how to get all the data on the website
  • The data users collect is stored on’s cloud servers and can be downloaded as CSV, Excel, Google Sheets or JSON and shared :*Users can generate an API from the data allowing them to easily integrate live web data into their own applications or third party analytics and visualization software
  • offers real-time data retrieval through JSON REST-based and streaming APIs, integration with several common programming languages and data manipulation tools, as well as a federation platform which allows up to 100 data sources to be queried


  • Mendeley is not a recommended software tool to use for the SR inclusion/exclusion process
  • Despite the social capabilities and the ability to work as a group from anywhere, Mendeley is not truly capable of importing and deduping large #s of records <100,000)
  • Mendeley is now owned by Elsevier and, despite being free, introduces all kinds of network challenges for users

Metafor Package in R

  • A free and open-source add-on for conducting meta-analyses within the statistical software environment R. It consists of a collection of functions that allow users to calculate various effect size or outcome measures, fit fixed-, random-, and mixed-effects models to such data, carry out moderator and meta-regression analyses, and create various types of meta-analytical plots.

SDSR – systematic review data repository (free)

  • The Systematic Review Data Repository (SRDR) is produced by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ)
  • It's a powerful and easy-to-use tool for the extraction and management of data for systematic reviews or meta-analyses: it is open and searchable
  • As a web-based tool for extraction and management of data, it is open and searchable; users create an archive of systematic reviews
  • With the searchable archive of systematic reviews (and the data extracted from studies for the meta-analysis), data management is easier
  • SDSR allows you to create your own "abstraction form" with instant validation checks; SDSR does not actually analyze the data
  • Price: Free


See RefWorks

Review Manager (RevMan)

  • Review Manager (RevMan) (software used for preparing and maintaining Cochrane Reviews)
  • Review Manager (RevMan) software is used for developing Cochrane systematic reviews. It's free and anyone can use it. It can help structure a review, build tables of included and excluded studies, and perform meta-analysis of study data
  • YouTube Introduction to RevMan tutorials

Reference Manager and Microsoft Access in combination

  • not recommended as ‘messy using 2 systems’
  • not recommended for inclusion/exclusion process

Systematic Review Database SRDB.PRO™

  • Systematic Review Database SRDB.PRO™ is a client-based software tool for managing and aiding systematic reviews (hosted or enterprise)
  • teams can cooperate and share results i.e., exclusion and inclusion criteria for the screening
  • data extraction grids with treatments, outcomes and various data columns
  • population details information fields
  • study details and critical appraisal questions, which can be open, single or multi-choice
  • hints can be input and data types chosen to help the extraction process
  • report template can be created for the project or chosen from those available
  • Price: requires purchase

SUMARI (System for the Unified Management, Assessment and Review of Information)

  • System for the Unified Management, Assessment and Review of Information, the Joanna Briggs Institute's premier software for the systematic review of literature
  • designed to assist researchers and practitioners in fields such as health, social sciences and humanities to appraise and synthesis evidence of feasibility, appropriateness, meaningfulness and effectiveness; and to conduct economic evaluations of activities and interventions
  • Conduct economic evaluations of activities and interventions
  • Price: Free, but requires registering
  • SUMARI has four sub modules;
  • QARI (Qualitative Assessment and Review Instrument), which is designed to facilitate critical appraisal, data extraction and meta-aggregation of the findings of qualitative studies;
  • MAStARI (Meta Analysis of Statistics Assessment and Review Instrument), which is designed to conduct the meta-analysis of the results of comparable cohort, time series and descriptive studies using a number of statistical approaches;
  • ACTUARI (Analysis of Cost, Technology and Utilisation Assessment and Review Instrument), which is is designed to facilitate critical appraisal, data extraction and synthesis of economic data, and:
  • NOTARI Narrative, Opinion and Text Assessment and Review Instrument), which is designed to facilitate critical appraisal, data extraction and synthesis of expert opinion texts and of reports.

University of Texas School of Public Health Library Excel Workbooks

Helena Vonville MLIS, MPH has created a series of Excel workbooks for systematic reviews, which have been used in SRs around the world.


  • The workbooks are free.
  • Assistance on their use is free.
  • Perfect for student projects or reviews with 1 or 2 screeners/reviewers.
  • Could be easily adapted to 3 or 4 screener/reviewers.
  • The handouts provide step-by-step guidance on each of the workbooks.
  • They follow the PRISMA guidelines and enhance the ability of the PI to report their findings.
  • They aren’t cloud-based so the screeners & reviewers aren’t dependent on having access to the Internet, just a computer.


  • Not so good for large enterprise reviews.
  • Requires someone with Excel skills to manage.
  • One person is responsible for their upkeep and other duties may prevent from making changes.
  • They aren’t cloud-based so it does require the workbooks to be sent back and forth.


See comparisons in Gough D, Oliver S, Thomas J. An introduction to systematic reviews. Sage Publications, London, 2012.


"Provide authors and users of The Cochrane Library with clear and transparent expectations of review conduct and reporting"
The PRISMA guidelines replace QUORUM and offer a checklist for preparing the manuscript reporting a systematic review. The PRISMA Flow Diagram Generator is also useful.
Consensus-based extension to PRISMA that offers a checklist for "condensing [a] systematic review into the essentials for an abstract."
Guide developed by the McGill Life Sciences Library to assist researchers in preparing manuscripts for publication and selecting venues for submission.


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