How information specialists support you with systematic reviews

‘Our support, tips and guidance save researchers a great deal of time and work.’

12/12/2019 | 2:48 PM

The medical information specialists in the University Library possess a wealth of experience with systematic reviews (SRs), says information specialist Hans Ket. ‘We are happy to use our knowledge of search strategies, tools and databases, to assist researchers in all fields of study - from Dentistry, Psychology to Movement Sciences and Economics. We can help with refining the research question to the resulting article. Our tips and guidance can save you a great deal of time and hassle.’ 

Systematic_Reviews_YC_HansKet_IsabelleRefining the research question
A systematic review provides a summary and analysis of the empirical evidence gathered in connection with a previously defined research question. For example: ‘Do final-year medical students have sufficient prescribing competencies?’ Based on the systematic review, a researcher will identify and appraise the evidence (see: Cochrane Collaboration Handbook 2019*). Analysis of the question is extremely important and can be time-consuming as well, Ket explains. ‘Sometimes we sit with researchers for a good ninety minutes trying to decipher all the ins and outs of their question.’

Removing duplicate results from different databases
‘Next, we break the question down into search terms, check to see if any terms are missing, and select the databases we want to use. We usually consult three databases, but sometimes eight. A lot of times, you get 2,000 to 3,000 hits per database. We remove the duplicate results from different databases. This saves researchers a great deal of time.’

Transparent and replicable
‘We also keep a logbook of the search strategy, to make sure it's transparent and reproducible. Because final responsibility for the search method lies with us, we are always listed as a co-author. We supply the paragraph on methodology and the tables describing the search strategies used. Our top priorities are always quality and efficiency.’  

High standards for selecting articles
Ket emphasises that high standards also apply to the selection of references (articles) for SRs. ‘This is especially true in medical science, where they form the basis for evidence-based guidelines and protocols. At least two researchers, working independently from one another, must review the references and select the relevant material based on the titles and abstracts.’

Free Rayyan selection tool
‘We recommend that researchers to use the free selection tool Rayyan. It can save you a huge amount of time. Because we have a wealth of experience with this tool, we are able to provide effective support. You review all the references in Rayyan and indicate include, exclude or maybe for each one. It's kind of like a Tinder for SRs. Of course, as information specialists, we don't have a hand in the actual selection. What we do provide is advice on bibliographical management using tools such as EndNote and Mendeley. Often, less than 10% of the found results are relevant. The researcher then goes in search of the PDF for those articles. We offer tips on how to do so in “How to get the pdf”.’ 

Advice on publishing an SR article
Lastly, the medical information specialists give advice on publishing the article. ‘We're happy to help find the best journal for a particular article. We promote Open Access publication, because it allows everyone to read about the work you're doing. On top of that, OA articles are downloaded and cited more often. The VU Journal Publishing Guide provides an overview of the journals in your field in which you could publish your work (potentially Open Access), along with any applicable discount on the Article Processing Costs (APC) for Open Access publication. We also point out the importance of having an ORCID for the findability of the researcher and his/her research. In addition, we always recommend publishing research protocols of the SR in the Prospero Register in order to prevent double work.

Measuring impact
Ket continues: ‘After publication, we can measure the scientific impact (citations) and social attention the article receives. We can do so by conducting a citation analysis or by showing you how to use Altmetrics to track social engagement (news media and social media, policy reports) with your research.’

Medical information specialists play an essential part
Most SR quality standards require the involvement of a medical information specialist, Ket explains. ‘The medical information specialists in the University Library conduct systematic reviews according to professional guidelines such as the Cochrane Handbook and the Standards for systematics reviews, IoM. Our contribution is essential, as demonstrated by research from Koffel (2015) and Rethlefsen et al. (2015). Without our involvement, the method tends to go off track, which can yield to biased results. We now conduct nearly all of the 200 SRs commissioned by the VUmc each year.’

SRs for other disciplines
Ket: ‘We also frequently do SRs for Dentistry, Psychology, Health Sciences and Movement Sciences, and sometimes for other faculties like Economics or Social Sciences. We want to use our SR knowledge and experience for the benefit of other fields of study as well. Some disciplines do not yet have an SR quality standard in place. Our team keeps up with the latest developments in connection with SR and would be happy to offer you advice.’

Want to learn more?
Visit the web page ‘Literature research & systematic reviews’ or see our Libguide
The medical information specialists will gladly come give a presentation on request.

Any questions?
You are always welcome to visit the Medical Library. Or contact the team via

Scheduling an appointment
Download the appointment form, fill it in and email it to There may be a waiting time of up to two weeks.
* The most commonly applied and authoritative definition: ‘Systematic reviews seek to collate evidence that fits pre-specified eligibility criteria in order to answer a specific research question. They aim to minimize bias by using explicit, systematic methods documented in advance with a protocol.’ Higgins J.P.T., Thomas J., Chandler J., Cumpston M., Li T., Page M.J., Welch V.A. (editors). Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions. 2nd Edition. Chichester (UK): John Wiley & Sons, 2019.

'The support I receive during Systematic Reviews saves me considerable time and helps improve quality'

Marceline Tutu van Furth, professor of Paediatrics at Amsterdam UMC, and her PhD candidates regularly work with medical information specialist Hans Ket on Systematic Literature Reviews in the fields of meningitis, tuberculosis, and women and leadership.
Tutu van Furth: 'Hans is extremely approachable for both researchers and professors and goes to great lengths to follow their line of thinking. He really knows how to search various databases using the right keywords. He is highly qualified. His support saves me considerable time and helps improve the quality of the Systematic Reviews. He is good at explaining things to the PhD candidates as well. I am likewise very satisfied with the citation analyses that the Medical Library performs for me from time to time.'
Marceline Tutu van Furth