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.
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.
|Syras – Sign up here||Covidence||Rayyan|
|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.
$4+ per month paid
|Workflow steps covered||Screening||Screening|
Full text review
Data extraction (for Cochrane)
|Notable Pros / Cons|| Reasonable, per project price|
Screening process only
| Fully featured solution (for medical reviews)|
Rigid format, limited configurability
Expensive annual subscription model
| Free option|
Risky data policy: they keep + can reuse your screening data
Screening process only
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 step||Syras – Sign up here||Covidence||Rayyan|
|Step 1 & 2 – Decide on your research question||This 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 – Synthesis||This is all you!||This is all you!||This is all you!|
|Step 8 – Write your paper||This 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 step||Syras – Sign up here||Covidence||Rayyan|
|Import articles||Refman RIS (.ris)Medline / Pubmed (.nbib)Endnote XMLEndnote JSON||EndNote XML PubMed text format Refman RIS (.ris)||EndNote Export (.enw) Refman RIS (.ris)CSVPubMed XML|
|Remove duplicates from multiple imports||Multiple 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 – interface||Ergonomically designed, high-efficiency interface with shortcut keys.||Well structured interface||Cluttered and complex screening interface.|
|Screening – keyboard shortcuts||Configurable shortcut keys||No support||Specified shortcut keys|
|Screening – Highlight keywords||Supported||Supported||Supported|
|Screening – Screening criteria||Supported, as hints, or an interactive check-list||Supported, as hints||Support, as “exclusion reasons”|
|Screening with a team of researchers.||Structured + tracked allocation of screening work between sub-teams||Unstructured approach – any user can screen abstracts that need screening||Unstructured approach – requires effort to coordinate|
|Resolving disagreements||Specific workflow within assigned sets, or across entire corpus||Specific workflow across entire corpus||Completed by unblinding, and changing original votes|
|Exporting||Refman RIS (.ris)Medline / Pubmed (.nbib)Endnote CSV (with comments, ratings, etc)||Refman RIS (.ris)Medline / Pubmed (.nbib)Endnote Excel||Refman RIS (.ris)Medline / Pubmed (.nbib)Endnote CSV|
|Knowledge-base / Help docs||Support, knowledge base with Youtube videos||Support, training, knowledge base with Youtube videos||Community support, knowledge base, Youtube videos|
|Non-Cochrane screening approaches||Super-fast title-only screening (coming soon)||None||Super-fast title-only screening|
In a nutshell
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.
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.
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.
This article was written using available collateral from marketing, terms, and other sources from Rayyan and Covidence. It represents a subjective synthesis of the high-level pros and cons of these three products someone might use to make a tradeoff decision, not a precise account of every feature or term of each solution. We recommend completing additional research when selecting a tool, and coming to your own conclusions.