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Tips, Tools & Resources

Resources by Discipline

While the core traits of knowledge synthesis remain the same across disciplines, different disciplines may prefer different guidelines, have different registries, and/or use different searching tools.  We have summarized some of the preferred resources for the disciplines which use KS most often in the documents below.

Database Tip Sheets

These database tip sheets do not cover general usage of any database, but instead focus on select complicated tools that are commonly used in knowledge synthesis and that even advanced searchers might not reasonably be expected to know.  For more general database tips and tricks, please refer to the Library's Help Videos.

Software and Tools

There are 4 popular software options that support the entire systematic review process:

  • JBI SUMARI: By subscription and mostly used for doing JBI reviews. SUMARI supports the entire review process, including drafting your protocol, study selection, critical appraisal, data extraction and synthesis. 
  • Distiller SR: Also supports the entire process and costs money. Offers special pricing for students. 
  • Covidence: Supports the whole process & costs money. Recommended by Cochrane. 
  • RAYYAN: Supports the whole process. FREE to use. A little clunky but works fairly well. Users often recommend using the web-version as the app can be slow and a bit unreliable.

There are also other tools that are available that don’t support the whole process but guide or help with parts of it. Things like: 

  • Citation management software like Zotero, Endnote, Mendeley, etc. 
  • Templates for protocols and reviews like the ones available from JBI.
  • Reporting templates and guidelines like those available through PRISMA. 

Select Guidelines

Guidelines provide a description of how a high quality knowledge synthesis should be performed.  Three of the most well-known of these are the ones produced by the Campbell Collaboration, the Cochrane Library, and the Joanna Briggs Institute (the top three guidelines linked below), however there are a number of other guidelines available and the extensive detail in those top three guidelines should be used with consideration for the needs indicated in more discipline specific resources (linked both below and in the discipline links above).

Reporting Standards

Reporting standards offer guidance on what information should be shared in the review regarding its process and methodology.  By far the most well-known of the standards is produced by PRISMA, which produces several guidelines that differ by synthesis type and methodological aspect.

Protocol Registries

Because of the significance of undertaking a quality knowledge synthesis, there are protocol registries that allow researchers to share their intent to publish on a topic prior to completion of the review.  Protocol registries should be used both to notify the research community of your intent to publish, and to ensure that no one else has already done so on your topic.

Search Filters

Search filters, also called hedges, are pre-assembled search strings for specific topics.  While search filters vary in quality and design, they offer an excellent basis for new searches and - in some cases - may replace one component of a search entirely. For instance, the Cochrane RCT search filter is excellent and can easily replace any other such narrowing option.  When using a search filter (either in part or in whole) or when using a substantive portion of a search from another review, it is expected that the source be cited and the creator given credit.

There are many places you may look for search filters, like:

Critical Appraisal

Critical appraisal (also called 'risk of bias assessment') is a step used in some kinds of evidence synthesis in which each article selected for inclusion in the final review is appraised for quality and likelihood of bias. There are many critical appraisal tools available, with some tools being preferred by (or more appropriate in) certain disciplines.  A selection of the more common tools is below:

  • JBI Critical Appraisal Tools  
    • Typically only used for JBI reviews  
    • 12 checklists – one each for 12 different kinds of studies  
    • Their “Checklist for text and opinions” can be used for grey literature

Other

This section contains one-off content that has been created to provide comprehensive answers to common questions.