HAR6501: Systematic Reviews and Critical Appraisal Techniques

The Systematic Reviews and Critical Appraisal Techniques module is led by Angie Rees. It runs in the Spring semester and is worth 15 credits.



The Systematic Reviews and Critical Appraisal Techniques module is led by Angie Rees. It runs in the Spring semester and is worth 15 credits.

It is one of the modules on:

  • European Masters Programme in Public Health (option)
  • Master of Public Health (Health Services Research) (option)
  • Master of Public Health (Management and Leadership) (option)
  • Master of Public Health (MPH) (option)
  • MSc Clinical Research (NIHR for Academic Clinical Fellows) (option)
  • MSc Clinical Research (standard route) (option)
  • MSc Human Nutrition (option)

This module is not available as a DDP module


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)
  • 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 the 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 the 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 systematic 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.

The content of our courses is reviewed annually to make sure it is up-to-date and relevant. Individual modules are occasionally updated or withdrawn. This is in response to discoveries through our world-leading research, funding changes, professional accreditation requirements, student or employer feedback, outcomes of reviews, and variations in staff or student numbers. In the event of any change we'll consult and inform students in good time and take reasonable steps to minimise disruption.

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