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Systematic Reviews

Choose the Right Kind of Review

Before you begin, it's important to understand how a systematic review is different from other kinds of literature reviews, and to be sure that your objectives and resources are suited to conducting a systematic review.

Systematic vs. Traditional Literature Reviews

Systematic Review Narrative (or Traditional Literature) Review
Question… A well-defined research question. Not necessarily focused on a specific question. May give an overview of a topic.
Search… Designed with the goal of finding all existing literature on the research question, both published and unpublished. The process is well-documented and reported for transparency and reproducibility. May be ad hoc, and may not be exhaustive or fully comprehensive. The process may not be documented.
Study Inclusion & Exclusion Criteria… Established prior to searching, consistently applied, and clearly reported. May not be specified.
Critical Evaluation of Included Studies… Comprehensive appraisal of the quality of included studies, and evaluation of bias. Studies' validity and biases may not be assessed.
Synthesis of Research… Systematic, generates a conclusion to the question posed based on quality evidence. Summary of studies, may reflect authors' bias.

Other Types of Literature Review

There are several other types of review that may use methods similar to systematic reviews:

  • Scoping Review: Used to identify the nature and extent of a body of research evidence on a topic. Broader in scope and may not include quality assessment of studies. May be conducted in preparation for a systematic review, or published as a research outcome in its own right.
  • Systematized Review: Attempts to include elements of the systematic review process without meeting all of the standards for a systematic review. May be more appropriate for an individual project, such as a postgraduate student assignment.
  • Rapid Review: Uses systematic review methods to search and appraise results within a time-constrained setting. Not as comprehensive as a systematic review.

The following resources provide information on the various types of review and how to conduct them:

What Does it Take to do a Systematic Review?

This quiz can help you determine if you have the resources to undertake a systematic review, or if a different type of review might be more appropriate: