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SOCW 553: Research Knowledge and Evidence in Clinical Social Work Practice

Overview of evidence-based practice, literature review/systematic review workflows, and citation management for your written EBP assignment.

What is a Systematic Review?

systematic review is one of the main types of evidence synthesis. Their goal is to identify, select, and critically appraise the available literature to answer a focused and well-formulated question. 

Systematic reviews are known for being: 

  • methodical and comprehensive - both in their methods and in the final written product
  • a viewpoint of all available quality literature
  • reproducible - both themselves and the science they are based on
  • transparent
  • a way to identify gaps in the literature
  • a way of producing evidence for policy and practice

Key Components of a Systematic Review

  1. 3+ authors is preferential to eliminate bias
  2. Effect based questions - otherwise, it would be better addressed by a scoping review
  3. Lengthy timelines (months to years)
  4. Quality appraisal assessment is required for a good review

Systematic Reviews vs. Literature Reviews

Kysh, L. (2013). Difference between a systematic review and a literature review [Figshare]. doi: 10.6084/m9.figshare.766364

Reporting Guidelines

PRISMA 2020 - the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses

PRISMA is the most common reporting guideline in health and allied disciplines for systematic reviews. They offer the following direction for completing a systematic review:

  • PRISMA 2020 Statement - background on its creation
  • Explanation and Elaboration - guiding document for how to use the PRISMA guideline
  • Checklist - a list of required elements to be included in a final systematic review following the PRISMA guideline
  • Flow Diagram - a visual documentation to be included in a final systematic review following the PRISMA guideline that outlines the amount of evidence located, analyzed, and finally selected for inclusion


PRISMA has also produced an extension that focuses on the creation of scoping reviews. The following documents outline the PRISMA-ScR guideline:

  • Statement and Explanation - a combined overview of expectations for completing a scoping review using the PRISMA-ScR guideline.
  • Checklist - a list of required elements to be included in a final scoping review following the PRISMA-ScR guideline
  • Tip Sheets - further examples of what each section of a scoping review can look like using this guideline

Arksey, H., & O'Malley, L. (2005). Scoping studies: Towards a methodological framework. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 8(1), 19-32.

This is another common example you will see being used in scoping reviews as a reporting guideline. It has been used by many to build newer guidelines as well (including PRISMA-ScR), but is still used and considered to be current today. 

There are many other guidelines used in other disciplines, some of which may intersect with social work topics. 

  • MARS - APA's Meta-Analysis Reporting Standards
  • MECCIR - Campbell Collaboration's Methodological Expectations of Campbell Collaboration Intervention Reviews

If you're not sure if another guideline might fit better, try consulting the EQUATOR Network for a more fulsome list of alternatives.