Systematic Review Design and Planning (Online)

  • 6 hours per week (approx.)
  • 11 weeks


This online course will help you plan and appraise systematic reviews.

You'll develop the hands-on skills and understanding needed to plan projects reviewing research literature.

You'll also gain more general insights into research methodology.

The course involves a mix of self-directed reading, written discussion and short pieces of collaborative writing with other students, in response to set tasks.

The distance learning format means you can study alongside your existing work or study commitments.

This course is run by the EPPI-Centre (Evidence for Policy and Practice Information and Co-ordinating Centre), based in the Social Science Research Unit in the Department of Social Science at UCL Institute of Education.

Who this course is for

This course is aimed at researchers, policy-makers, practitioners and managers.

It's suitable for students with a wide range of interests, including health, education, social policy and international development

Course content

The course will cover the following topics:

  • Systematic reviews: claims for their value, core principles and diversity
  • Review questions and purposes
  • Searching for and identifying research reports
  • Techniques and tools for managing research data in reviews
  • Approaches to appraising the rigour and relevance of diverse forms of research
  • Approaches to synthesising the findings of existing research: commonalities and key operational differences
  • Evaluating a systematic review’s methods

Teaching and structure

You'll be part of a small cohort with varied interests and experiences of research.

You'll access course materials and communicate with tutors and other students via a virtual learning environment.

You'll also have access to the systematic review software EPPI-Reviewer.

Every one or two weeks you'll cover a new course 'unit', carrying out a number of learning activities. You can do these at your own pace, and at times of your own choosing, so long as you complete the specified tasks by the deadlines set.

You'll be expected to participate regularly in individual and in pair or group activities with other students to help all on the course progress.

Typical activities you'll undertake include:

  • reading a journal article or book chapter and identifying key themes
  • applying principles to practical tasks, e.g. drafting and evaluating research questions, running and evaluating a search of a bibliographic database, critically appraising reports of qualitative and quantitative research
  • drafting short summaries on a topic, on your own or with fellow students
  • posting comments and observations on your own reading and learning and providing feedback to other students

Learning outcomes

On successful completion of this course, you'll:

  • be able to identify the rationales behind a diversity of approaches to the systematic reviewing of research (e.g. the reviewing of studies containing quantitative and/or qualitative data), along with principles and decision points central to all
  • be able to appraise the methodological quality of systematic reviews, and to draft protocols to address the development of review questions and inclusion criteria, and methods for searching, screening, describing and appraising studies
  • be able to evaluate tools and other resources for conducting and managing a systematic review
  • have critical insight into the potential for systematic review approaches for your own work


You can request a certificate upon completing the course. 

Preparation and recommended reading

You'll need access, from the start of the course, to a copy of the SAGE 2012 textbook, 'An introduction to systematic reviews' by David Gough, Sandy Oliver and James Thomas.

Further information

The EPPI-Centre is recognised worldwide for its work developing methods for diverse kinds of systematic review and for the production of policy-relevant research.

This course can also be taken as part of the MSc Systematic Reviews for Social Policy and Practice. For further information about this Master's course, please contact the course administrator.

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Course team

Dr Mukdarut Bangpan

Mukdarut is a Research Officer in the Social Science Research Unit (SSRU) at UCL Institute of Education. Her interests include social interventions, health and well-being of children and women in developing countries, and methodological development of systematic reviews. She's worked on various systematic review projects funded by the Department for International Development (DFID), the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), the Department for Culture and Sport (DCMS), the Welcome Trust and the HM Treasury.

Course information last modified: 26 Jul 2017, 12:54