The volume of scientific literature continues to expand and decision-makers are faced with increasingly unmanageable volumes of evidence to assess. Systematic reviews (SRs) are powerful tools that aim to provide comprehensive, transparent, reproducible and updateable summaries of evidence. SR methods were developed, and have been employed, in healthcare for more than two decades, and they are now widely used across a broad range of topics, including environmental management and social interventions in crime and justice, education, international development, and social welfare. Despite these successes and the increasing acceptance of SR methods as a ‘gold standard’ in evidence-informed policy and practice, misconceptions still remain regarding their applicability. The aim of this article is to separate fact from fiction, addressing twelve common misconceptions that can influence the decision as to whether a SR is the most appropriate method for evidence synthesis for a given topic. Through examples, we illustrate the flexibility of SR methods and demonstrate their suitability for addressing issues on environmental health and chemical risk assessment.