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Knowledge Synthesis: Systematic, Scoping & Other Reviews

Developing Inclusion and Exclusion Criteria

Inclusion/Exclusion Criteria

When you are first starting to plan your search strategy, you should consider what your eligibility criteria will be. This will include all of your inclusion and exclusion criteria for your topic. 

Eligibility Criteria

When you are outlining your eligibility criteria, you should think about criteria that could be used both as limiters in the databases, but also as evaluation criteria for when you are reading and narrowing your resources. 

Further discussion (section 3.4); 

How to Perform a Systematic Literature Review: A Guide for Healthcare Researchers, Practitioners and Students

Inclusion Criteria

Inclusion criteria are elements of resources that must be present in order to meet the needs of your topic, assignment, or focus. These elements must be present for you to consider using them in your final review. 

Some examples include:

  • Peer-reviewed journal articles
  • Published only in the past 5 years
  • English only resources
  • Resources focused on studying youth from the ages of 6-12

Exclusion Criteria

Exclusion criteria are elements of resources that if found would disqualify them from being used in your final review. Sometimes these are closely related to your inclusion criteria, and may not be easily added to your search. Exclusions elements may need to saved for the evaluation stage of your review and considered while reading the full-text of the resources. 

Some examples include:

  • Letters to the Editor or Commentaries on studies
  • Studies with fewer than 100 participants
  • Resources focused on First Nations populations in Australia rather than Canada


Definitions are extremely important for any evidence synthesis. Whether it is for your research question or your eligibility criteria, it is important that your readers understand how you define your topic. The strongest reviews are those that provide definitions at the start to provide context for the rest of the research. 

Example question: Among young adults, what is the effect of social media overuse on the rate of depression? 

Definitions to consider:

  • What ages does "young adults" cover? Are adolescents included? 
  • What "social media" is being included? All? Specific platforms?
  • How is "overuse" being measured? Is a specific scale being considered?
  • How is depression being measured? Clinical diagnosis only? Self-diagnosed?