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Systematic Reviews

What are Systematic Reviews?

Systematic Reviews (SRs) aim to find and evaluate all studies, published and unpublished, relevant to a research question. They use systematic methods to minimise bias and they also use transparent methods that allow for replication and verification.

Key characteristics are:

  • a clearly stated research question with pre-defined eligibility criteria for studies
  • an explicit, reproducible methodology
  • a comprehensive search strategy that attempts to identify all studies that would meet the eligibility criteria
  • an appraisal of the validity of the findings of the included studies, for example through the assessment of risk of bias
  • a synthesis and interpretation of the findings of the included studies (Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions, 2008, p. 6)

Meta-analysis is a systematic review that uses quantitative methods to synthesise and summarise the results.


Comparison of Systematic Reviews and Literature Reviews

The table is taken from an article reviewing fourteen types of reviews:


Systematic Review

Literature Review


Seeks to systematically search for,

appraise and synthesise research evidence,

often adhering to guidelines on the conduct

of a review

Generic term: published materials that provide

examination of recent or current literature.

Can cover wide range of subjects at various

levels of comprehensiveness.

May include research findings


Aims for exhaustive, comprehensive


May or may not include comprehensive 



Quality assessment may determine


May or may not include quality



Typically narrative, with tabular


Typically narrative

What is known; recommendations for 

practice. What remains unknown; 

uncertainty around findings,

recommendations for future research

Analysis may be chronological, 

conceptual, thematic, etc

Other Review Types

A Critical Review aims:

  • to demonstrate you have extensively researched the literature and critically evaluated its quality.  It goes beyond mere description to include a degree of analysis and conceptual innovation and typically results in an hypothesis or model
  • to identify the most significant items in the field

A Scoping Review aims:

  • to identify the nature and extent of research evidence (usually including ongoing research) on a topic or field of interest
  • to offer a preliminary assessment of the available research literature

This review type is about compiling evidence from multiple reviews that offer different findings for dealing with a condition or problem. The evidence is summarised in one document. 

​A Literature Review aims:

  • to identify the key authors/researchers in an area of study and provide information on a particular topic demonstrating an understanding of the field of study and an awareness of the main issues in the field
  • to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the existing research in the field
  • to highlight knowledge gaps in a field of study
  • to demonstrate how current ideas in the field fit with or support your work (or not) and whether you agree or disagree with these ideas.

Literature Review Guide

Rapid reviews are a type of knowledge synthesis in which systematic review methods are streamlined and processes are accelerated to complete the review more quickly.

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