Introduction 0

Welcome to the Cochrane Collaboration’s Open Learning Material for Cochrane reviewers. Performing a Cochrane review requires skills that may be new to you, including the formulation of appropriate questions, literature-searching, critical appraisal, statistical analysis and interpretation and application of your findings. This material is designed to accompany the Cochrane Reviewers’ Handbook in helping you gain these skills and complete your review. It does not replace the Reviewers’ Handbook, instead it provides a framework to progressing through the Handbook, supplementing it with examples and activities along the way.

Many training events and tools have been developed and published to help reviewers acquire these skills, however not all are accessible to all reviewers. This material is designed to help train reviewers in the methods and processes of performing a Cochrane review. Along with the Cochrane Reviewers’ Handbook, this material will stand alone, offering an alternative to face-to-face training, especially for those reviewers living and working away from easy access to the training offered by Cochrane Centres and Cochrane Collaborative Review Groups. For those able to access this face-to-face training, this material will serve as a useful resource to remind you of what you have learned.

This material will take a step-by-step approach to Cochrane reviews, exploring each step individually, signposting appropriate links and references and providing examples and activities to help you make sense of the information. The material is organised in modules, each module relating to a consecutive section of your review. It is a good idea to complete each module as you start working on the corresponding part of your review. There are also some additional modules relating to issues of reviewing that do not occur in all reviews.

Sections of the Reviewers’ Handbook you need to read, extra references and activities are listed at the beginning of the module so you know what you will need to complete that module, then referenced again throughout the text in the place to which they relate. These references are clearly marked in the margin using the symbols below. In electronic versions, the icons in the margin serve as a link to the Reviewers’ Handbook or other reference material. In paper versions they act to guide you to the appropriate place in the reference.

Also in the margin are brief summary notes, highlighting the important learning points.

All the references are freely available, either in the text or on the Internet, excepting the optional reference referred to in Module 6 (and useful to have in general):

Egger M, Davey Smith G, Altman D (eds). Systematic Reviews in Health Care. BMJ 2001. If you would like to buy this book it is available at

A note on the other material referred to

This material refers to version 4.1.5 of the Reviewers’ Handbook. The Reviewers’ Handbook is updated periodically and the next version, 4.2, will have major changes to section 8 covering statistical issues. At the moment, some of the statistical modules refer you to Section 8 of the Reviewers’ Handbook. This may refer to the new section 8, and if using a version that does not have this, the section you are told to find may not exist. A new release of RevMan, also called 4.2, is planned for 2003.

Where possible, we have tried to anticipate these changes, but some of the suggested links in this material may become out of date when this happens until the next major update of this material, which is planned for mid 2004.

The development of this material

This material was developed, based on open learning strategies, in a collaborative project between several Cochrane Centres and the Cochrane Statistical Methods Group. It has been approved by the Handbook Advisory Group of the Cochrane Collaboration and will be regularly updated by the project team.


Phil Alderson, UK Cochrane Centre, (
Sally Green, Australasian Cochrane Centre, (


Jon Deeks, Centre for Statistics in Medicine, Oxford, UK
Julian Higgins, MRC Biostatistics Unit, Cambridge, UK
Jacob Riis, Nordic Cochrane Centre, Copenhagen, Denmark
Chris Silagy, Australasian Cochrane Centre, Melbourne, Australia

[Chris Silagy wrote his contribution to this material during 2000 while on sabbatical in Oxford. He died in 2001]

Sources of support:

National Health Service Research and Development Programme, UK
Department of Health and Ageing, Australia
Copenhagen Hospital Corporation, Denmark


We are grateful to Mike Clarke of the UK Cochrane Centre, and Philippa Middleton of the Australasian Cochrane Centre for their comments on this material, and to Nicola Thornton and Sarahjayne Sierra of the UK Cochrane Centre for their help with copy editing.

Principles underlying use of this material

Use of this material should adhere to the following set of principles.

  • This material, developed by the Cochrane Collaboration for training reviewers, should be freely available to those reviewers with a registered Cochrane review title
  • Profits generated from training non-Cochrane reviewers with this material should benefit the Cochrane Collaboration
  • Organisations utilising this material within their courses should acknowledge its source
  • Any suggestions for the improvement and updating of this material should be sent to the editors so that these suggestions can be considered in future revisions of the material