autumn 2017
HEL-8031 Systematic Reviews - 2 ECTS

Last changed 19.01.2018

Application deadline

Registration deadline for PhD students and students at the Student Research Program at Uit - The Arctic University of Norway: August 1st

Application deadline for external applicants: June 1st. Application code in SøknadsWeb is 9303

Type of course

PhD course. This course is available as a singular course.

The course is organised by the Clinical Research Department at the University Hospital of Northern Norway (UNN) in Tromsø and the Department of Clinical Medicine at the Faculty of Health Sciences, UiT The Arctic University of Norway.

Admission requirements

PhD students, students at a Student Research Program or holders of a Norwegian master´s degree of five years or 3+ 2 years (or equivalent) may be admitted.

PhD students from other universities must upload a document from their home institution stating that there are registered PhD students. This group of applicants does not have to prove English proficiency and are exempt from semester fee.

Holders of a Master´s degree must upload a Master´s Diploma with Diploma Supplement / English translation of the diploma. Applicants from listed countries must document proficiency in English.

Proficiency in English must be documented - list of countries


For more information on accepted English proficiency tests and scores, as well as exemptions from the English proficiency tests, please see the following document:

Proficiency in english - PhD level studies


This course has a maximum capacity of 15 students.

If there are more applicants than available spaces in the course, students will be given priority from category 1 to 5:

1. PhD students affiliated with the national network 'Norwegian Research School in Medical Imaging' (MedIm).

2. PhD students, research fellows and students participating in the Medical Student Research Programme at UiT The Arctic University of Norway (not affiliated with MedIm).

3. Participants in the Associate Professor Programme.

4. PhD students and students at a Medical Student Research Programme at other universities (not affiliated with MedIm).

5. People who have minimum a master's degree or equivalent, but have not been admitted to a PhD programme.


For more information regarding PhD courses at the Faculty of Health Sciences go to:

Course content

The course will provide learning and practical experience for many aspects of systematic reviewing, including question formulation, setting the eligibility criteria, searching and critical appraisal of studies, data extraction, analysis, and reporting. Examples used to illustrate the key steps will be relevant to the participants, who should leave the course with much greater ability to use systematic reviews for decision-making and more confidence in their ability to conduct a systematic review.

Recommended prerequisites

HEL-8018 Introduction to Randomised Control Trials (RCT)

Objectives of the course


Students will:

  • have the knowledge they need to search widely for studies for a systematic review, including the choice of sources to search and the words or phrases to use in the search.
  • know how to assess the quality of potentially eligible studies and be able to identify suitable tools to use to assess quality and risk of bias.
  • understand the basic principles of the meta-analyses techniques used for systematic reviews (including heterogeneity).



Students will be able to:

  • state the research question for a systematic review, to cover key aspects of, for example, the population, interventions or exposures and outcome measures.
  • choose the inclusion and exclusion criteria for a systematic review, including the types of participant, types of intervention or exposure (where appropriate) and types of outcome measure.
  • set the eligibility criteria.
  • plan the data extraction for a systematic review, and to design a simple data extraction form.



Students will be able to:

  • understand the practical aspects of doing a systematic review.
  • use this knowledge to appraise systematic reviews.

Language of instruction and examination


Teaching methods

Interactive lectures and group work.


Home assignment/multiple choice based on 1-2 systematic review papers. The exam will be graded as passed or not passed.

The assignments may be completed in English.


Work requirements: Participation in lectures.


Students who do not pass the exam will be offered a re-sit exam the following semester.

Recommended reading/syllabus

General background

  • Altman DG. Systematic reviews of evaluations of prognostic variables. BMJ 2001; 323: 224-228.
  • Clarke M. History of evidence synthesis to assess treatment effects: personal reflections on something that is very much alive. JLL Bulletin: Commentaries on the history of treatment evaluation. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 2016; 109: 154-163.
  • Davey J, et al. Characteristics of meta-analyses and their component studies in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews: a cross-sectional, descriptive analysis. BMC Medical Research Methodology 2011;11:160.
  • Grant MJ, Booth A. A typology of reviews: an analysis of 14 review types and associated methodologies. Health Information and Libraries Journal 2009; 26: 91-108. 
  • Leeflang MM, et al. Cochrane Diagnostic Test Accuracy Working Group. Systematic reviews of diagnostic test accuracy. Annals of Internal Medicine 2008; 149: 889-897.
  • Page M, et al. Epidemiology and Reporting Characteristics of Systematic Reviews of Biomedical Research: A Cross-Sectional Study. PLoS Medicine 2016; 13(5): e1002028.
  • Peters JL, et al. A systematic review of systematic reviews and meta-analyses of animal experiments with guidelines for reporting. Journal of Environmental Science & Health - Part B 2006; 41: 1245-1258. 
  • Sagoo GS, et al. Systematic reviews of genetic association studies. PLoS Medicine 2009; 6(3): e1000028.
  • Starr M, et al. The origins, evolution, and future of The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. International Journal of Technology Assessment in Health Care 2009; 25(Suppl 1): 182-195.


Protocol development

  • Clarke M, Williamson P. Core outcome sets and systematic reviews. Systematic Reviews 2016;5:11.
  • Shamseer L, et al. Preferred reporting items for systematic review and meta-analysis protocols (PRISMA-P) 2015: elaboration and explanation. BMJ 2015; 349: g7647.
  • Page MJ, et al. Bias due to selective inclusion and reporting of outcomes and analyses in systematic reviews of randomised trials of healthcare interventions. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2014; (10): MR000035.


Study identification

  • Booth A. How much searching is enough? Comprehensive versus optimal retrieval for technology assessments. International Journal of Technology Assessment in Health Care 2010; 26: 431-435.
  • Edwards P, et al. Identification of randomized controlled trials in systematic reviews: accuracy and reliability of screening records. Statistics in Medicine 2002; 21: 1635-1640.
  • Hopewell S, et al. Handsearching versus electronic searching to identify reports of randomized trials. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2007; (2): MR000001.
  • Hopewell S, et al. Publication bias in clinical trials due to statistical significance or direction of trial results. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2009; (1): MR000006. 
  • Horsley T, et al. Checking reference lists to find additional studies for systematic reviews. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2011; (8): MR000026.
  • Layton DM, Clarke M. Will your article be found? Authors choose a confusing variety of words to describe dental survival analyses. Clinical Oral Implants Research 2015; 26(1): 115-122.
  • Pilkington K, et al. 'No language restrictions' in database searches: what does this really mean? Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 2005; 11: 205-207.


Data gathering

  • Adams CE, et al. Systematic reviews: Work that needs to be done and not to be done. Journal of Evidence-Based Medicine 2013; 6: 232-235.
  • Clarke MJ, Stewart LA. Systematic Reviews: Obtaining data from randomised controlled trials: how much do we need for reliable and informative meta-analyses? BMJ 1994; 309: 1007-1010.
  • Tierney JF, et al. Individual participant data (IPD) meta-analyses of randomised controlled trials: guidance on their use. PLoS Medicine 2015; 12(7): e1001855.
  • Vickers A, et al. Do certain countries produce only positive results? A systematic review of controlled trials. Controlled Clinical Trials 1998; 19(2): 159-166.
  • Young T, Hopewell S. Methods for obtaining unpublished data. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2011; (11): MR000027.


Quality assessment

  • Dwan K, et al. Comparison of protocols and registry entries to published reports for randomised controlled trials. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2011; (1): MR000031. 
  • Higgins JP, et al. The Cochrane Collaboration's tool for assessing risk of bias in randomised trials. BMJ 2011; 343: d5928.
  • Juni P, et al. The hazards of scoring the quality of clinical trials for meta-analysis. JAMA 1999; 282(11): 1054-1060.
  • Sanderson S, et al. Tools for assessing quality and susceptibility to bias in observational studies in epidemiology: a systematic review and annotated bibliography. International Journal of Epidemiology 2007; 36: 667-676.
  • Soares HP, et al. Bad reporting does not mean bad methods for randomised trials: observational study of randomised controlled trials performed by the Radiation Therapy Oncology Group. BMJ 2004; 328: 22-24.


Statistical analysis

  • Anon. Education section: Meta-analysis. Journal of Evidence Based Medicine 2009; 2(3): 209-210.  Bender R, et al. Attention should be given to multiplicity issues in systematic reviews. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology 2008; 61: 857-865.
  • Clarke M, Halsey J. Dicing with chance, life and death in systematic reviews and meta-analyses: D.I.C.E. 3, a simulation study. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 2014; 107: 116¿119.
  • Cooper HM, Rosenthal R. Statistical versus traditional procedures for summarizing research findings. Psychological bulletin 1980; 87: 442-449.
  • Higgins JPT, et al. Measuring inconsistency in meta-analyses. BMJ 2003; 327: 557-560.
  • Lee AW. Review of mixed treatment comparisons in published systematic reviews shows marked increase since 2009. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology 2014, 67:138-143.
  • Lewis S, Clarke M. Forest plots: trying to see the wood and the trees. BMJ 2001; 322: 1479-1480.
  • Peto R. Current misconception 3: that subgroup-specific trial mortality results often provide a good basis for individualising patient care. British Journal of Cancer 2011; 104: 1057¿1058.
  • Turner RM, et al. Predicting the extent of heterogeneity in meta-analysis, using empirical data from the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. International Journal Epidemiology 2012; 41(3): 818-827.


Reporting reviews

  • Brown P, et al. How to formulate research recommendations. BMJ 2006; 333: 804-806. Liberati A, et al. The PRISMA Statement for reporting systematic reviews and meta-analyses of studies that evaluate health care interventions: explanation and elaboration. PLoS Medicine 2009; 6(7): e1000100.
  • Maguire LK, Clarke M. How much do you need: a randomised experiment of whether readers can understand the key messages from summaries of Cochrane Reviews without reading the full review. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine 2014; 107(11): 444-449.


Appraising systematic reviews

  • Agnihotry A, et al.Systematic reviews in oral health: A quality imperative. Journal of Evidence Based Medicine 2016; 9(2): 47-52. Oxman AD. Systematic Reviews: Checklists for review articles. BMJ 1994; 309: 648-651.
  • Shea BJ, et al. AMSTAR is a reliable and valid measurement tool to assess the methodological quality of systematic reviews. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology 2009; 62: 1013-1020.

  • About the course
  • Campus: Tromsø |
  • ECTS: 2
  • Course code: HEL-8031
  • Tilleggsinformasjon
  • PhD students at UiT
  • External applicants
  • Course information