Systematic reviews in social care and social work research

Deborah Rutter Completed   2010


Systematic reviews are a means of building bodies of evidence about a research topic or question from unrelated research studies. They follow a transparent path from the evidence toward a defensible conclusion, seeking to minimise as far as possible personal and methodological bias. Systematic reviews also offer a summary, which is valuable in a world where those that need to know cannot possibly access and read all the evidence.


This review aimed to introduce the concept and methods of systematic reviewing of research evidence, and to some of the debates that consider the use of systematic reviews for knowledge production in, and dissemination to, social care settings.


This review outlines the stages of systematic reviewing, including topic selection, drawing up and piloting of inclusion criteria, searching, quality appraisal, data extraction and synthesis, and reporting.

It highlights some of the methodological challenges arising from the use of systematic reviews within social care and social work value and resource systems (e.g. involving stakeholders and end users in the work; setting review parameters to fit available resources; the limitations of primary studies in social care settings), and considers the different types of review questions and research evidence with which reviewers in social care may engage.

Some limitations of systematic reviews, including the difficulty of conveying nuanced conclusions to policymakers, are described.

Since this review was written, there have been further valuable publications in this field, highlighting the importance of using reviews of evidence to underpin practice within social care at a time of funding cuts.

Systematic reviews in social care and social work research
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