Systematic reviews and meta-analysis

A guide for authors submitting to the Expert Collection

Every article must contain

Clearly identify the article as a systematic review, meta-analysis or a combination of the two (please note the terms ‘systematic review and meta-analysis should not be used interchangeably).

All articles should have a concise, informative title that contains no brand names and provides information regarding the question/objective of the manuscript.

Authors’ names and affiliation: Including address, academic qualifications and job titles of all authors, as well as telephone number and email address of the author for correspondence on a separate cover sheet as the peer reviewers will not be aware of the authors’ identity.

Please ensure funding information for the manuscript is included, potential conflicts of interest from the authors of the paper are provided alongside an author contribution statement.

Maximum 200 words

The aim of the abstract is to draw in the interested reader and provide an accurate reflection of the content of the paper. We therefore request the following structure is followed for systematic review and meta-analysis articles: 

Introduction: Clearly state the objective or question that your review/meta-analysis addresses and state your study design. 

Methods: Include information sources used, inclusion/exclusion criteria, how bias in the included studies was assessed and methods used to generate and present results. 

Results: Specify the total number of studies/number of participants included and present the main outcomes. If a meta-analysis has been completed, please also provide the summary estimate and confidence/credible interval. If comparing groups, indicate the direction of the effect (that is, which group is favored).

Conclusions: Provide a general interpretation of the results and important implications along with a brief summary of limitations of the evidence.

Systematic reviews and meta-analyses must be registered prospectively (prior to the collection of data) with an open and accessible registry, e.g. PROSPERO. Details of registration must be included in your manuscript upon submission (including registration numbers where applicable).

A brief list of 4-10 keywords, in alphabetical order, is required to assist indexers in cross-referencing. The keywords will encompass the therapeutic area, mechanism(s) of action, key compounds and so on.

Introduction: The introduction should provide a clear rationale for the manuscript in the context of current knowledge. Authors should explain the importance of the review and/or meta-analysis and why the current manuscript is considered necessary (if the paper is an update of a previous review, this should be stated, and the previous paper cited). If discussing interventions, authors should include details, such as, how interventions might work. Authors should ensure their introduction explicitly states the objective/ question addressed by the manuscript. 

Methods: Authors should ensure their methods section includes details of the eligibility criteria for inclusion/exclusion; information resources searched and when they were accessed; the search strategy used; the selection and data collection process;  how the study was assessed for potential bias; the effect measures used and how it was determined which measure was used for each outcome; statistical analysis used and supporting information for why specific analysis was chosen; a discussion of methods used to assess risk of bias due to missing data; and a description of how confidence in the data was assessed.  
Results: Authors should provide a detailed overview of the search and selection process and are requested to provide a flow diagram to support this description; they should explain the exclusion of studies, which may appear to meet inclusion criteria but were excluded from analysis. Each study included in the analysis should be cited, its characteristics and risk-of-bias assessment presented.  For each outcome authors are asked to present, for every study: a summary of statistics, an effect estimate and its precision using tables and/or plots to support this information. Authors are reminded to ensure they present results of all prespecified outcomes and provide results of any investigation into variability in the data.  
Discussion: The discussion section should place the results of this review into context allowing readers to interpret its findings. Authors need to consider the limitations of the evidence of their review and any review processes used before discussing implications of the review and how it relates to potential policy, practice and future research.

To distinguish the articles published in the Expert Collection, authors are asked to consider adding an additional section entitled ‘Expert Opinion’. This section goes beyond a normal discussion section and affords authors the opportunity to provide their opinion supported by the data presented in the article to discuss the developments that are likely to be important in the future, and the avenues of research likely to become exciting as further studies yield more detailed results.

Authors should answer the following:

1. How could the advances or research under discussion impact real world outcomes (diagnosis, treatment guidelines, effectiveness, economics, drug utilisation etc.)? Can changes be realistically implemented into clinical/research practice? What is preventing adoption in clinical practice?

2. What are the key areas for improvement in the area being discussed and how can current problems and limitations be solved? Are there any technical, technological, or methodical limitations that prevent research from advancing as it could?

3. What potential does further research hold? Is there a definitive end-point?

4. Does the future of study lie in this area? Are there other more promising areas in the field which could be progressed?

5. How will the field evolve in the future? In your perspective, what will the standard procedure have gained or lost from the current norm in five or ten years?

At the end of the Expert Opinion section, authors are challenged to include a speculative viewpoint on how the field will have evolved five years from the point at which the review was written.

For a full-length review, around 100 references are suggested. Ensure that all key work relevant to the topic under discussion is cited in the text and listed in the bibliography.

Reference to unpublished data should be kept to a minimum and authors must obtain a signed letter of permission from cited persons to use unpublished results or personal communications in the manuscript.

Important references should be highlighted with a one/two-star system and brief annotations should be given (see the journal’s Instructions for Authors page for examples and for a more detailed description of our referencing style).

Up to 5 figures and 5 tables are permitted. For further information on tables and figures, please see our formatting guide.

Permission to reproduce previously published figures should be sought in writing by the authors, preferably prior to submission, and any permission documentation (licenses, written approval etc.) should be uploaded alongside the manuscript.

We advocate that our authors use the PRISMA checklist to structure their manuscript. A completed checklist must be submitted with each Systematic Review/ Meta-analysis/ Systematic Review & Meta-analysis.

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