Potential shortcut #2: Simplify your screening process

In a standard systematic review, every study is screened by two people. Screeners look at a study’s abstract and then, if it looks promising, the full text to decide if it is relevant for the systematic review topic. When screeners disagree on a study, they try to resolve the disagreement through discussion or by bringing in a third person. This process is designed to prevent a relevant study from slipping through the cracks, either by accident or because of screener bias.

To save time, you could take a less comprehensive approach to screening.

Options include:

  • Using a single screener (for some or all of the process)
  • Screening for studies with the most rigorous research design. That is, prioritizing evidence at the top of the “research hierarchy,” starting with systematic reviews and randomized controlled trials and only move on to other evidence (e.g., non-randomized studies) if you don’t find enough evidence
  • Only screen for research in your language (vs. all languages)
  • Only screen for research that is more recent using a selected data (e.g., only the last 10 years) with justification.  

Consequences of these shortcuts

Using a single screener can accelerate the time consuming process of screening, but it also undermines the robustness of your systematic review process. It increases the possibility that you’ll miss relevant studies or include non-relevant ones.

Restricting your search to only English studies, or randomized controlled trials may improve the efficiency of your process, but it also means you will likely miss relevant information. 

If time permits, have a second person verify all or a portion (e.g., 20%) of the excluded citations at both the titles/abstract screening stage and at the full-text screening stage.