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The article below describes different types of literature reviews and methods of synthesizing scientific literature. It can be very helpful when you are trying to decide what kind of review best suits your goals.

Grant & Booth (2009). A typology of reviews: an analysis of 14 review types and associated methodologies Health Information and Libraries Journal, 26, pp.91-108.

Systematic review or a literature review?

It’s common to confuse systematic and literature reviews because both are used to provide a summary of the existing literature or research on a specific topic. This table provides a detailed explanation as well as the differences between systematic and narrative literature reviews.

Kysh, Lynn (2013): Difference between a systematic review and a literature review. [figshare]. Available at:

Types of Reviews

Systematic reviews: Comprehensive with minimized bias, based on specific question and criteria with a pre-planned protocol, evaluates quality of evidence. Example

  • Based on randomized controlled clinical trials (RCTs) – Best evidence
  • Based on other types of clinical studies or literature – Best available evidence
  • Meta-analysis – A quantitative systematic review that applies statistical analysis. Example

A systematic review can be either quantitative or qualitative.

A quantitative systematic review will include studies that have numerical data.
A qualitative systematic review derives data from observation, interviews, or verbal interactions and focuses on the meanings and interpretations of the participants. It will include focus groups, interviews, observations and diaries.

Narrative reviews: Broad perspective on topic (like a textbook chapter), no specified search strategy, significant bias issues, may not evaluate quality of evidence. Example

Scoping Reviews: An overview of the literature on a broader topic; often done to identify whether a systematic review is feasible.

Rapid reviews: 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.



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Subjects: Faculty of Medical Sciences