HAR6501: Systematic Reviews and Critical Appraisal Techniques


This module is designed to familiarise students with principles of systematic reviews and critical appraisal and the acquisition of skills necessary to undertake such work. The unit includes an introduction to principles of systematic literature reviews and critical appraisal; search strategies; computer-assisted search methods; practicalities of writing up the results of a systematic review; introduction to meta- analysis (reviews of quantitative studies) and meta-synthesis (reviews of qualitative studies); and dissemination of findings.


This module aims to provide a wide-ranging overview of systematic review methods and their application to a wide variety of public health and health services research questions and will:

  • Identify the main components of, and stages in conduct of, a systematic review
  • Explore the range of methods available for identification of studies for inclusion in a systematic review
  • Emphasise the importance of quality assessment of research studies in determining internal and external validity
  • Describe the application of systematic review methods to a range of research questions, including qualitative and quantitative questions
  • Facilitate selection of appropriate standards for presenting and reporting review methods
  • Learn meta-analysis methods, using meta-analytic software and/or explore methods for meta-synthesis

Learning outcomes

By the end of the unit, a candidate will be able to:

  • Describe the key principles of a systematic review and how they are used within healthcare;
  • Formulate a complete and valid review question
  • Assess the different methods for identifying evidence and their respective merits;
  • Recognise the importance of quality assessment as a key component of the systematic review process;
  • Analyse the contribution of the different stages of the systematic review process to limitation of the potential for bias;
  • Explain how different methods of synthesis may be used to produce and present evidence within a systematic review;
  • Interpret the findings from the systemativc review process within the context of recommendations for research and recommendations for practice.

Teaching Methods

Lectures will be used to orientate students to the topic. They will identify the utility of systematic review methods in general and explore the main stages of the review process within which detailed consideration of specific types of review question can take place. Practical workshops will equip students with experience and skills related to the principal stages of the systematic review process. Finally, independent study will allow follow up of an extensive repository of resources and preparation of the mini-systematic review assignment.


You will be expected to spend a significant amount of time on self study (76 hours), including preparing for taught sessions and general reading and will also spend time working on your assignment (50 hours). You will also be expected to develop considerably your literature searching skills alongside this module, for example by taking advantage of the IRISS courses offered by the Information Resources team.


Component Weighting
Report (3,000 words) 100%

The assessment will consist of a 3,000 word structured report in which students will be asked to review systematically a given topic (therapeutic, surgical, screening, health promotion, qualitative) or, following discussion with the module coordinator, a topic of their own choice. The output will be a “mini-review” demonstrating application of review principles to a subset of 5-6 relevant items.

The pass mark is 50%.