Syras vs. Covidence vs. Rayyan

This article steps through a few of the popular cloud software solutions for screening abstracts. All three of these products are cloud solutions – no installation or software management on your computer – and all three have some notable pros and cons.

Summary

Syras is a modern, low cost, flexible product for screening abstracts in a variety of situations, from dissertations to Cochrane systematic reviews. Syras is self-funded, and bought by academics.

Covidence is a highly structured end-to-end solution tightly focused on Cochrane reviews, with an annual subscription. Covidence is Venture Capital funded, and often sold to institutions.

Rayyan is a freemium, low cost screening solution, good for simple situations. Rayyan was funded by the Qatar foundation, and claims ownership of all content (including screening responses) in their fine print, so keep this in mind.

Comparison table

SyrasSign up hereCovidenceRayyan
Pricing$US30 per review (double)$80 per review (team)$240USD for 1 review, included in 1 year subscription.
$211 per review, if you buy 3x reviews.
Free option
$4+ per month paid
Workflow steps coveredScreeningScreening
Full text review
Data extraction (for Cochrane)
Screening
Notable Pros / Cons Reasonable, per project price
High flexibility
Screening process only
Fully featured solution (for medical reviews)
Institutional licenses
Rigid format, limited configurability
Expensive annual subscription model
Free option
Risky data policy: they keep + can reuse your screening data
Poor design
Screening process only

Workflow

Systematic reviews have three high level stages, with steps inside each stage. Here’s our summary from a blog post we wrote about the definition of a systematic review.

Let’s look at how these three products differ in what they offer, within this workflow.

Systematic review stepSyrasSign up hereCovidenceRayyan
Step 1 & 2 – Decide on your research questionThis is all you!This is all you!This is all you!
Step 3 – Search for all potentially relevant articles No support No support. No support
Step 4 – Title and abstract screening Great support. Great support. Great support.
Step 5 – Full text screening No support. Possible, but tedious compared to Endnote. Possible, but tedious compared to Endnote.
Step 6 – Data extraction No support. Yes, specific to Cochrane studies only No support
Step 7 – SynthesisThis is all you!This is all you!This is all you!
Step 8 – Write your paperThis is all you!This is all you!This is all you!

That looks pretty bleak, but there are a couple of things worth noting:

  • 80% of the repetitive, tedious, painful, error-prone effort is within steps 4, 5, and 6.
  • There are lots of other software solutions that support the rest of the workflow. Products like Endnote, and even Excel or Google Docs can be used successfully for the other workflow steps.

Breaking down the Title and Abstract screening step

There are actually a number of steps within the step here, where we can really compare the products.

Title and Abstract screening stepSyrasSign up hereCovidenceRayyan
Import articlesRefman RIS (.ris)Medline / Pubmed (.nbib)Endnote XMLEndnote JSONEndNote XML PubMed text format Refman RIS (.ris)EndNote Export (.enw) Refman RIS (.ris)CSVPubMed XML
Remove duplicates from multiple importsMultiple manual scans allowed, using algorithmic approaches, with bulk resolution.
Less likely to leave some duplicates than both
Automatically checked, strict rules, record-by-record resolution.

They recommend doing deduplication in Endnote
Automatically checked, opaque rules, record-by-record resolution.

They recommend doing deduplication in Endnote
Screening – interfaceErgonomically designed, high-efficiency interface with shortcut keys.Well structured interfaceCluttered and complex screening interface.
Screening – keyboard shortcutsConfigurable shortcut keysNo supportSpecified shortcut keys
Screening – Highlight keywordsSupportedSupportedNo support
Screening – Screening criteriaSupported, as hints, or an interactive check-listSupported, as hintsSupport, as “exclusion reasons”
Screening with a team of researchers.Structured + tracked allocation of screening work between sub-teamsUnstructured approach – any user can screen abstracts that need screeningUnstructured approach – requires effort to coordinate
Resolving disagreementsSpecific workflow within assigned sets, or across entire corpusSpecific workflow across entire corpusCompleted by unblinding, and changing original votes
ExportingRefman RIS (.ris)Medline / Pubmed (.nbib)Endnote CSV (with comments, ratings, etc)Refman RIS (.ris)Medline / Pubmed (.nbib)Endnote ExcelRefman RIS (.ris)Medline / Pubmed (.nbib)Endnote CSV
Knowledge-base / Help docsSupport, knowledge base with Youtube videosSupport, training, knowledge base with Youtube videosCommunity support, knowledge base, Youtube videos
Non-Cochrane screening approachesSuper-fast title-only screening (coming soon)NoneSuper-fast title-only screening

In a nutshell

Syras

The product: Syras is a flexible screening tool, useful in a variety of scenarios, including smaller scale pieces of work like dissertations, yet powerful enough to work well with a team doing a Cochrane review. Payment is per-project, and not subscription based, which aligns with the expectations of academics funding their work.

Syras is reasonably priced, and is sold to the academics doing the reviews. To thrive, Syras will need to be a pleasure to use for academics. Expect this aspiration to be a constant into the future.

The company: The Scipilot (the makers of Syras) mission is about accelerating the scientific process.

Accelerate the scientific process, for the betterment of humanity.

Scipilot mission

While both Covidence and Rayyan are born from the world of academia, Syras is delivered by two tech-sector veterans, wanting to apply their experience to academic software. With loose ties to academia, they’re approaching things with a different perspective, looking for new and innovative ways to improve the scientific process.

Scipilot is based in Australia.

Sign up for your free account and start a free demo project.

Covidence

The product: Covidence provides a fully featured Cochrane-focused review tool, which fits hand-in-glove with that process. If you’re deviating from that, and looking for flexibility, it might not tick all your boxes.

Covidence is priced as an annual subscription, and is quite steep for an individual to fork out for. Cochrane tends to rely on it’s network of high-up relationships (and endorsement by Cochrane as “the solution”) to sell licenses at scale, to institutions. With the institution as the buyer, expect the experience of the end-user (that’s you) to erode over time. They’re motivated to keep institutions happy, not really academics. This is a common software trap, where buyer ≠ user.

The company: If the mission of a company means a lot to you, you’ll be glad to hear that Covidence has a noble mission:

Covidence is a social enterprise platform, used around the world, to help turn the flood of new scientific research into high-quality knowledge by accelerating the systematic review workflow.

We are on a mission to help the world create trustworthy knowledge.

Covidence careers

They’re Australian based, and have a strong history with Cochrane, partnering closely with them for training and much more.

Rayyan

The product: Rayyan provides a free tool to get through the screening process of your systematic review. It’s great for small scale reviews, but has limited configurability, and a fairly rough interface. If good looks, and the privacy of your review data aren’t important to you, it’s a good solution for you.

The company: Rayyan’s mission is about accelerating scientific discovery.

Rayyan Systems Inc. is a leading provider of collaboration and research tools that power the global research community in pursuit of accelerated scientific discovery.

Rayyan – About

It’s worth noting that “Rayyan was developed through the Qatar Computing Research Institute, funded by the Qatar Foundation, a nonprofit that supports education, science, research, and community development initiatives in Qatar.” (source), and as part of the Rayyan terms, there is a fairly sweeping clause around “ownership and content”, which gives them ownership rights on content you upload, including content such as comments in a review.

When products are free, you are probably the product. This idiom holds true for almost all products. While it’s difficult to be certain, it’s hard to not wonder, when reading the Rayyan fine-print.

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