Conducting Systematic Reviews

January 13, 2010
Austin, Texas

Laura Shankland
Communications Associate
Phone: 512-391-6556

Systematic reviews have become increasingly useful in fields such as medicine, education, and disability and rehabilitation. Practitioners in these areas base their work on scientific evidence, and systematic reviews typically deal with research studies to determine the effectiveness of particular interventions. Service providers can identify “what works” through high-quality systematic reviews that use a clearly described protocol in order to eliminate bias in examining all the evidence around a focused question.

To help more disability researchers learn how to conduct systematic reviews, the National Center for the Dissemination of Disability Research (NCDDR) in SEDL’s Disability Research to Practice (DRP) program is continuing a Web-based distance education series called Conducting Systematic Reviews of Evidence-Based Disability and Rehabilitation Research. “Systematic reviews can be very challenging and time consuming to complete,” explains SEDL program associate Joann Starks, who is one of the course facilitators. “They’re not something you can learn just by reading a book.”

By teaching more researchers to conduct systematic reviews, facilitators intend to help increase the number of systematic reviews available for disability researchers and practitioners. Participating teams have been asked to commit to completing a systematic review as an outcome of course activities. Facilitators also want to encourage researchers and practitioners to use systematic reviews. “We want to raise awareness of the importance of systematic reviews as a way of knowing what works and planning future research studies,” says Starks.

Systematic reviews can benefit persons with disabilities in a number of ways. Professional organizations, such as the American Physical Therapy Association, can share systematic review findings with members and use them for professional development and clinical practice guidelines. In addition, organizations like the Campbell Collaboration, which supports the development of systematic reviews, provide user-friendly summaries of review findings. Persons with disabilities and their families can use these abstracts to increase decision-making options in discussion with service providers.

The NCDDR course began in September 2009 and will continue through April of this year. Four teams of upper-level graduate students, post-doctoral researchers, and researchers at universities and research organizations around the world were selected from a field of 10 teams that applied. Each team submitted an application and a tentative topic for a systematic review.

In 2007, nine teams completed a similar course, resulting in one systematic review, “The Use of Cultural Competency Educational Interventions to Improve Rehabilitation Service Access and Use Outcomes for Culturally Diverse Individuals With Disabilities.” 

Learn more about the course.

Learn more about systematic reviews.

Read January 2010 SEDL Monthly this article appears in.

About SEDL

SEDL (formerly Southwest Educational Development Laboratory) is a nonprofit corporation based in Austin, Texas. SEDL is dedicated to solving significant education problems and improving teaching and learning through research, research-based resources, and professional development. For more information about SEDL, visit