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Systematic Reviews in Health

Interpret the Results

Interpretation of Principal Findings and Drawing Conclusions

The Interpretation (or Discussion) section of the systematic review helps readers interpret the main findings of the review, brought together in the synthesis step.

The interpretation should include:

  • Statement of principal findings
  • An analysis of those findings (for example, on what strength of the evidence, are the review's conclusions being made?)
  • The strengths and weaknesses of the review
  • A statement that places the findings in the context of the existing evidence base, particularly in relation to any existing relevant systematic reviews. 

The interpretation should strike a balance between objectively describing the findings, and subjectively speculating on their meaning.For example, a finding may be based on high-quality evidence but how applicable is it to a clinical setting?

  • Limitations

Discuss limitations at study and outcome level (e.g., risk of bias), and at review-level (e.g., incomplete retrieval of identified research, reporting bias).

Author's Conclusions

Consist of:

  • Applicability of the Results

The interpretation should comment on the relevance of the findings to key groups, that is, what are the practical implications for groups such as healthcare providers, users, and policy makers?

  • Implications for Future Research

State any unanswered questions and implications for further research.2


1. University of York, NHS Centre for Reviews and Dissemination. (2009). Systematic reviews: CRD's guidance for undertaking reviews in health care, 3rd ed. York, England : The Centre.  Available:

2. Higgins, P.T., & Green, S. (eds.). (2008). Cochrane handbook for systematic reviews of interventions.  Chichester, England ; Hoboken, NJ : Wiley- Blackwell.  Available: