Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Systematic Reviews: The Process: Defining Topic

Clearly Define the Question


IOM STANDARD 2.5 : Formulate the topic for the systematic review

  • 2.5.1 Confirm the need for a new review
  • 2.5.2 Develop an analytic framework that clearly lays out the chain of logic that links the health intervention to the outcomes of interest and defines the key clinical questions to be addressed by the systematic review
  • 2.5.3 Use a standard format to articulate each clinical question of interest
  • 2.5.4 State the rationale for each clinical question
  • 2.5.5 Refine each question based on user and stakeholder input


  1. Obtain a copy of the research proposal for the systematic review
  2. Meet with the research team to discuss the project. Clarify the key questions. Understand the inclusion and exclusion criteria. The eligibility criteria will specify the types of designs, types of participants, types of intervention (experimental and comparator) and, in some cases, the types of outcomes to be addressed.
  3. Gather any individual studies that are already known to address the question; use these as a validation set for your search strategy
  4. Use the PICO framework to identify the key concepts of the question: (Patient Problem / Intervention / Comparison / Outcomes)
  5. Document the databases and platform searched, the exact search strategy (best to copy and past line by line) and the date searched.