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The methodological quality of systematic reviews published in high-impact nursing journals: a review of the literature



Aims and objectives

To analyse systematic review articles published in the top 10 nursing journals to determine the quality of the methods employed within them.


Systematic review is defined as a scientific research method that synthesises high-quality scientific knowledge on a given topic. The number of such reviews in nursing science has increased dramatically during recent years, but their methodological quality has not previously been assessed.


A review of the literature using a narrative approach.


Ranked impact factor scores for nursing journals were obtained from the Journal Citation Report database of the Institute of Scientific Information (ISI Web of Knowledge). All issues from the years 2009 and 2010 of the top 10 ranked journals were included. CINAHL and MEDLINE databases were searched to locate studies using the search terms ‘systematic review’ and ‘systematic literature review’. A total of 39 eligible studies were identified. Their methodological quality was evaluated through the specific criteria of quality assessment, description of synthesis and strengths and weaknesses reported in the included studies.


Most of the eligible systematic reviews included several different designs or types of quantitative study. The majority included a quality assessment, and a total of 17 different criteria were identified. The method of synthesis was mentioned in about half of the reviews, the most common being narrative synthesis. The weaknesses of reviews were discussed, while strengths were rarely highlighted.


The methodological quality of the systematic reviews examined varied considerably, although they were all published in nursing journals with a high-impact factor.

Relevance to clinical practice

Despite the fact that systematic reviews are considered the most robust source of research evidence, they vary in methodological quality. This point is important to consider in clinical practice when applying the results to patient care.