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5.1.2  Eligibility criteria

One of the features that distinguish a systematic review from a narrative review is the pre-specification of criteria for including and excluding studies in the review (eligibility criteria). Eligibility criteria are a combination of aspects of the clinical question plus specification of the types of studies that have addressed these questions. The participants, interventions and comparisons in the clinical question usually translate directly into eligibility criteria for the review. Outcomes usually are not part of the criteria for including studies: a Cochrane review would typically seek all rigorous studies (e.g. randomized trials) of a particular comparison of interventions in a particular population of participants, irrespective of the outcomes measured or reported.  However, some reviews do legitimately restrict eligibility to specific outcomes. For example, the same intervention may be studied in the same population for different purposes (e.g. hormone replacement therapy, or aspirin); or a review may address specifically the adverse effects of an intervention used for several conditions (see Chapter 14, Section 14.2.3).


In Sections 5.2 to 5.5 we provide an overview of the key components of questions and study types with examples of useful issues to consider for each component and the subsequent development of eligibility criteria to guide inclusion of studies.