Basics of Systematic Reviews

Types of Reviews

Literature Review

Collects key sources on a topic and discusses those sources in conversation with each other

  • Standard for research articles in most disciplines
  • Tells the reader what is known, or not known, about a particular issue, topic, or subject
  • Demonstrates knowledge and understanding of a topic
  • Establishes context or background for a case or argument
  • Helps develop the author’s ideas and perspective

Rapid Review

Thorough methodology but with process limitations in place to expeditethe completion of a review.

  • For questions that require timely answers
  • 3-4 months vs. 12-24 months
  • Limitations - scope, comprehensiveness bias, and quality of appraisal
  • Discusses potential effects that the limited methods may have had on results

Scoping Review

Determine the scope or coverage of a body of literature on a given topic and give clear indication of the volume of literature and studies available as well as an overview of its focus.

  • Identify types of available evidence in a given field
  • Clarify key concepts/definitions in the literature
  • Examine how research is conducted on a certain topic or field
  • Identify key factors related to a concept
  • Precursor to a systematic review
    • Key difference is focus
  • Identify and analyze knowledge gaps

Systematic Review

Attempts to identify, appraise, and summarize all empirical evidence that fits pre-specified eligibility criteria to answer a specific research question.

  • clearly defined question with inclusion/exclusion criteria
  • rigorous and systematic search of the literature
  • thorough screening of results
  • data extraction and management
  • analysis and interpretation of results
  • risk of bias assessment of included studies


Used to systematically synthesize or merge the findings of single, independent studies, using statistical methods to calculate an overall or ‘absolute’ effect.

  • Combines results from multiple empirical studies
  • Requires systematic review first
  • Use well recognized, systematic methods to account for differences in sample size, variability (heterogeneity) in study approach and findings (treatment effects)
  • Test how sensitive their results are to their own systematic review protocol


For additional types of reviews please see these articles: