Article Text

How to write a systematic review of reasons
  1. Daniel Strech1,
  2. Neema Sofaer2
  1. 1Assistant professor, Hannover Medical School, CELLS - Centre for Ethics and Law in the Life Sciences, Institute of History, Ethics and Philosophy, Hannover, Germany
  2. 2Wellcome Trust Research Fellow, Centre of Medical Law and Ethics, School of Law, King's College London, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Professor Daniel Strech, Hannover Medical School, CELLS - Centre for Ethics and Law in the Life Sciences, Institute of History, Ethics and Philosophy, Carl Neuberg Strasse 1, 30625 Hannover, Germany; strech.daniel{at}


Systematic reviews, which were developed to improve policy-making and clinical decision-making, answer an empirical question based on a minimally biased appraisal of all the relevant empirical studies. A model is presented here for writing systematic reviews of argument-based literature: literature that uses arguments to address conceptual questions, such as whether abortion is morally permissible or whether research participants should be legally entitled to compensation for sustaining research-related injury. Such reviews aim to improve ethically relevant decisions in healthcare, research or policy. They are better tools than informal reviews or samples of literature with respect to the identification of the reasons relevant to a conceptual question, and they enable the setting of agendas for conceptual and empirical research necessary for sound policy-making. This model comprises prescriptions for writing the systematic review's review question and eligibility criteria, the identification of the relevant literature, the type of data to extract on reasons and publications, and the derivation and presentation of results. This paper explains how to adapt the model to the review question, literature reviewed and intended readers, who may be decision-makers or academics. Obstacles to the model's application are described and addressed, and limitations of the model are identified.

  • Bioethics
  • decision making
  • ethics and evidence-based medicine (EBM)
  • guideline development
  • health policy
  • information ethics
  • methods in empirical bioethics
  • review literature as topic
  • systematic review
  • technology/risk assessment

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  • Funding DS was partly supported by a grant from the German Research Foundation (DFG) (STR 1070/2-1). NS was supported by a research fellowship in biomedical ethics from the Wellcome Trust, grant number 088360.

  • Competing interests NS is collaborating with the UK's National Research Ethics Service (NRES) to write NRES's first guidance on post-trial access.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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