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PHDH916 Introduction to Appraising and Preparing Systematic Reviews

Course description for academic year 2024/2025

Contents and structure

This course introduces how to find, critically appraise existing systematic reviews, and how to prepare a new systematic review within the following types of systematic reviews: meta-synthesis, meta-analysis, and scoping review. The common denominator for the different reviews is systematicity and transparency, i.e., systematic reviews. The course description uses ‘systematic reviews’ as an umbrella term.

In this course, the candidate will be introduced to systematic reviews in a twofold way; how to critically appraise systematic reviews (part one) and how to prepare a systematic review (part two). Students will learn how systematic reviews can inform the justification and design of new research studies, and to inform the interpretation of new results in the context of existing knowledge. Furthermore, students will learn how to find and critically appraise systematic review within their field of interest.

The course will introduce them to the steps involved in preparing a systematic review within the following types of systematic reviews: meta-synthesis, meta-analysis, and scoping review.

Course information, material, videos, etc will be published on Canvas, which is the current learning platform at HVL.

The course is a 4-week online course with four parts:

  • Introduction to systematic review, how to find and critically appraise systematic reviews (Day 1-3)
  • How to search for literature to include in the systematic review and how to use DistillerSR (Day 4-5)
  • Critical Appraisal of included original studies, Data Extraction, Synthesis and Grading of evidence. This is performed in parallel for the group dealing with qualitative data, the group dealing with quantitative data, and the group dealing with scoping reviews (Day 6-15)
  • Preparing the assignment (Day 16-20)

Learning Outcome

A PhD candidate who completes the course will achieve the following learning outcomes:


The candidate

  • will understand the purpose and design of systematic reviews
  • will understand what a systematic review can be used to and where the limits for its application can be found
  • will be able to critically reflect on concepts and theories related to systematic reviews
  • is in the knowledge front within the methodological possibilities and challenges in preparing systematic reviews
  • can evaluate the expediency and application of how to identify and critical appraise a systematic review
  • can evaluate the expediency and application of how to prepare a systematic review, and can select an appropriate methodological framework relevant to the research question in the systematic review


The candidate …

  • can prepare a search strategy to identify a relevant systematic review
  • can carry out a critically appraisal of a systematic review
  • can decide if a systematic review is up to date
  • can search for and identify relevant studies to be included in a systematic review
  • can critically appraise the risk of bias in included studies
  • can extract data from included studies
  • can perform a relevant synthesis of the included studies
  • can handle complex academic issues related to the use and preparation of a systematic review
  • can critically formulate implications for practice and further research based on a systematic review
  • can challenge the existing limited understanding and use of systematic reviews and is able to critically appraise existing systematic reviews as well as preparing high quality systematic reviews of international standard

General competence

The candidate …

  • can manage the complex interdisciplinary assignments related to the production of systematic reviews
  • can assess the need for a new systematic review in his or her own field of research
  • can initiate and manage a systematic review process
  • will know the importance of the concept of systematicity and transparency in identifying and synthesising knowledge
  • can participate in debates about both the benefits and limitations of systematic reviews and their use in clinical practice, guideline production and in the planning of research

Entry requirements

Master's degree with 120 ECTS credits or equivalent in relevant academic fields.

Number of participants: The course requires a minimum of 5 and a maximum of 20 participants. The number of PhD students should preferably comprise at least 50% of the total number of participants.

Teaching methods

The course is organised as an interactive web-based course. There will be synchronous lectures, group discussions and reflections, and individual written assignments. In addition, a-synchronous learning activities like video-podcast to explain some of the concepts and methods, literature, and small quizzes. Finally, some of the tasks during the course can with advantage be performed in small groups.

There is an expectation that students participate actively and contributes to the learning environment, for instance in academic discussions in synchronous meetings, or in the learning platform.

Compulsory learning activities



Assignment (individual).

For the final assignment, the student must prepare a protocol for a systematic review. The length of the protocol must maximum be 24.000 characters (approximately 10 pages). The protocol shall follow the PRISMA-P reporting guideline (See: Shamseer L, Moher D, Clarke M, Ghersi D, Liberati AD, Petticrew M, et al. Preferred reporting items for systematic review and meta-analysis protocols (PRISMA-P) 2015: elaboration and explanation. BMJ. 2015;349:g7647). This means that the protocol should be a protocol that in principle can be published and not just a registration protocol (for example like a registration protocol in PROSPERO, see https://www.crd.york.ac.uk/prospero/). The protocol should include a plan for either a meta-analysis, a meta-synthesis or a scoping review. The student is encouraged to prepare a protocol of relevance for her/his own PhD project, but this is not mandatory.

Grading scale: Pass / Fail

New exam: If failing to pass, the student has the opportunity to hand in an improved assignment.

Examination support material

All aids are permitted.

More about examination support material