IS 6363: Digital Forensics - Systematic Literature Review (Choo)

Tips on conducting literature and systematic reviews in Computer Science and Cyber Security

LIterature Review vs. Systematic Review

Literature review is a comprehensive summary of previous research on a topic. Literature review may be included as part of a research article; or an entire article may be literature review of previously published research. Such articles typically include "review" or "survey" in the title.

This article provides a good overview of a literature review process applicable across disciplines.

Systematic (literature) review is an in-depth, structured literature review designed to answer a specific question. It originated in healthcare and medical evidence-based practice, but systematic reviews have been gaining popularity in other disciplines, including computer science.

Systematic reviews summarize and evaluate the research on a specific topic:

  •   Identify relations, contradictions, gaps, and inconsistencies
  •   Compare studies in terms of assumptions about the research question, experimental method, data analysis, and any conclusions drawn           
  •   Inform areas of future research and practice


Systematic Review

Literature Review


  • High-level overview of primary research on a focused question that identifies, selects, synthesizes, and appraises all relevant high-quality research evidence

  • Qualitatively summarizes evidence on a topic using informal or subjective methods to collect and interpret studies.


  • Answer a focused question  
  • Eliminate bias

  • Provide summary or overview of topic


  • Clearly defined and answerable question

  • Can be a general topic or a specific question


  • Pre-specified eligibility criteria                                             
  • Systematic search strategy
  • Assessment of the validity of findings
  • Interpretation and presentation of results
  • Reference List

  • Introduction
  • Methods
  • Discussion
  • Conclusion
  • Reference List


  • Thorough knowledge of topic
  • Perform searches of all relevant databases
  • May include statistical analysis of resource for meta-analysis (not all systematic reviews include it)

  • Understanding of a topic
  • Perform searches of one or more databases


This table is a derivative of a poster by Lynn Kysh developed for medical libraries:

Systematic Review Steps

  • Formulate clearly defined question

    • Find existing reviews of your topic/domain to identify gaps and avoid repetition of previous work. You may add review, survey, "systematic review" to your topic search
    • Example: What current research techniques have emerged in regards to IoT applications and approaches in the last decade?
  • Develop keywords

    • Example:  digital forensic investigations of internet of things applications
    • Example search: (application* OR software* OR “app” OR “apps”) AND (iot OR “internet of things”) AND (forensic* OR investigat* OR crime* OR criminal*) 
  •  Identify appropriate databases
  • Determine other inclusion/exclusion criteria
    • Include items based on date range, methods, topic, access, etc.
    • Exclude items based on language, study type (reviews, surveys, or non-peer-reviewed), or topic
  • Run searches

    • Modify search to fit database 
    • Export results to a citation manager like EndNote or Zotero
    • Combine results using a tool like Rayyan 
    • Deduplicate
  • Select studies for inclusion based on pre-defined criteria
    • First by title/abstract then full text (ctrl/cmnd+f is your friend)
    • Evaluate bias
  • Present and summarize findings 
    • Including detailed search methods and selection criteria

REMINDER:  You may find examples of systematic review and literature review articles on Getting Started page.

PRISMA 2020: Guidelines and Checklist for Systematic Reviews