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Systematic Reviews

Systematic Reviews

How is a Systematic Review different from a Literature Review?

"This type of review is a specific methodology that aims to comprehensively identify all relevant studies on a specific topic, and to select appropriate studies based on explicit criteria. In addition, the methodological quality of the studies included is assessed by on the basis of explicit criteria, such as the presence of a pre-test or a control group. In contrast to a conventional literature review, a systematic review (SR) is transparent, verifiable, and reproducible, and, as a result, the likelihood of bias is considerably smaller." Center for Evidence Based Management,

For information on how to write a literature review: 
  Efron, S. E., & Ravid, R. (2019). Writing the literature review : a practical guide . The Guilford Press.


Systematic review

Literature review


Focused on a single question

Not necessarily focused on a single question, but may describe an overview


A peer review protocol or plan is included

No protocol is included


Both provide summaries of the available literature on a topic


Clear objectives are identified

Objectives may or may not be identified

Inclusion and exclusion criteria

Criteria stated before the review is conducted

Criteria not specified

Search strategy

Comprehensive search conducted in a systematic way

Strategy not explicitly stated

Process of selecting articles

Usually clear and explicit

Not described in a literature review

Process of evaluating articles

Comprehensive evaluation of study quality

Evaluation of study quality may or may not be included

Process of extracting relevant information

Usually clear and specific

Not clear or explicit

Results and data synthesis

Clear summaries of studies based on high quality evidence

Summary based on studies where the quality of the articles may not be expected. May also be influenced by the reviewer's theories, needs and beliefs


Written by an expert or group of experts with a detailed and well grounded knowledge of the issues

From :

Scoping reviews follow the same procedures of a systematic review, except:

  • Answers broader questions beyond those related to the effectiveness of treatments or interventions
  • Critical appraisal or Risk of Bias assessment is optional
  • May involve multiple structured searches
  • Data extracted is charted
  Scoping review Systematic review
Research question Broadly defined Highly focused
Inclusion/Exclusion criteria Developed post hoc at study selection stage Developed at protocol stage
Study selection All study types Defined study types
Data extraction “Charts”  data according to key issues, themes, etc.

Synthesizes & aggregates findings


Peters M, Godfrey C, Khalil H, et al. Guidance for Conducting Systematic Scoping Reviews.  Int J Evid Based Healthc. 2015;13:141-146

The Joanna Briggs Institute Reviewers' Manual 2015: Methodology for JBI Scoping Reviews

PRISMA for Scoping Reviews

"Rapid reviews are a form of knowledge synthesis in which components of the systematic review process are simplified or omitted to produce information in a timely manner. "


Rapid review

Assessment of what is already known about a policy or practice issue, by using systematic review methods to search and critically appraise existing research.

Completeness of searching determined by time constraints.

Time-limited formal quality assessment.

Typically narrative and tabular.

Quantities of literature and overall quality/direction of effect of literature.    


Dobbins, Maureen. Rapid Review Guidebook. Steps for Conducting a Rapid Review. National Collaborating Centre for Methods and Tools, 2017. 

"Meta-analysis is the quantitative, scientific synthesis of research results." Gurevitch, J., Koricheva, J., Nakagawa, S., & Stewart, G. (2018). Meta-analysis and the science of research synthesis. Nature, 555(7695), 175–182.



Technique that statistically combines the results of quantitative studies to provide a more precise effect of the results.

Aims for exhaustive searching. May use funnel plot to assess completeness.

Quality assessment may determine inclusion/exclusion and/or sensitivity analyses.

Graphical and tabular with narrative commentary.

Numerical analysis of measures of effect assuming absence of heterogeneity.


Shorten A., Shorten B. What is meta-analysis? Evidence-Based Nursing 2013;16:3-4.

Meta-synthesis is a systematic approach to the analysis of data across qualitative studies. -- EJ Erwin, MJ Brotherson, JA Summers. Understanding Qualitative Meta-synthesis. Issues and Opportunities in Early Childhood Intervention Research, 33(3) 186-200.

Why use a meta-synthesis?

Qualitative data is useful for providing a snapshot at one person’s interpretation of an event or phenomenon. By bringing together many different interpretations you are strengthening the evidence for an interpretation by discovering common themes and differences & building new interpretations of the topic of interest.

Finlayson KW, & Dixon A. (2008). Qualitative meta-synthesis: a guide for the novice. Nurse Researcher, 15(2), 59–71.

Kent B, & Fineout-Overholt E. (2008). Using meta-synthesis to facilitate evidence-based practice. Worldviews on Evidence-Based Nursing, 5(3), 160–162.