Systematic Reviews

What type of review is right for you?

While systematic reviews are well known, they may not be the best type of review for your research. Several tools are listed below to help you decide which type of review is best suited for your research.

A decision tree by Cornell University to help one decide which review type may be right for them. Start at the top and answer the yes or no questions until you end on a review type

"Review Methodologies Decision Tree" by Cornell University Library is licensed under CC BY 4.0.

Systematic reviews vs. other review types

Although systematic reviews are one of the most well-known review types, there are a variety of different types of reviews that vary in terms of scope, comprehensiveness, time constraints, and types of studies included.

Type of Review Description Time to Complete Search Strategy Other Information
Narrative/Literature Review Collates relevant studies and draws conclusions from them. 2+ months Search strategy not typically reported. Not comprehensive, which could introduce bias. Collins JA, Fauser BC. Balancing the strengths of systematic and narrative reviews. Hum Reprod Update. 2005;11(2):103-104. doi:10.1093/humupd/dmh058
Scoping Review Presents a preliminary assessment of the potential size and scope of available research literature. Aims to identify nature and extent of research evidence (usually including ongoing research). 2+ months Completeness of searching determined by time/scope constraints. Librarian collaboration recommended.

Arskey H, O'Malley L. Scoping studies: towards a methodological framework. Int J of Soc Research Meth: Theory and Prac. 2005; 8:1.

Daudt HM, van Mossel C, Scott SJ. Enhancing the scoping study methodology: a large, inter-professional team's experience with Arksey and O'Malley's framework. BMC Med Res Methodol. 2013;13:48. Published 2013 Mar 23. doi:10.1186/1471-2288-13-48

Rapid Review Assesses what is already known about a policy or practice issue by using systematic review methods to search and critically appraise existing research. 2-6+ months Completeness of searching determined by time constraints. Librarian collaboration recommended.

Khangura S, Konnyu K, Cushman R, Grimshaw J, Moher D. Evidence summaries: the evolution of a rapid review approach. Syst Rev. 2012;1:10. Published 2012 Feb 10. doi:10.1186/2046-4053-1-10

Integrative Review Reviews, critiques, and synthesizes representative literature on a topic in an integrated way such that new frameworks and perspectives on the topic are generated. 2-10+ months Aims for exhaustive, comprehensive search. Librarian collaboration recommended. Whittemore R, Knafl K. The integrative review: updated methodology. J Adv Nurs. 2005;52(5):546-553. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2648.2005.03621.x
Umbrella Review Reviews other systematic reviews and meta-analyses on a topic. Focuses on a broad condition or problem for which there are competing interventions and highlights reviews that address these interventions and their results. 2+ months Identification of component reviews but no search for primary studies. Librarian collaboration recommended. Smith V, Devane D, Begley CM, Clarke M. Methodology in conducting a systematic review of systematic reviews of healthcare interventions. BMC Med Res Methodol. 2011;11(1):15. Published 2011 Feb 3. doi:10.1186/1471-2288-11-15
Systematic Review Attempts to identify, appraise, and synthesize all the empirical evidence that meets pre-specified eligibility criteria to answer a given research question. Uses explicit methods aimed at minimizing bias in order to produce more reliable findings that can be used to inform decision making. 10-12+ months Aims for exhaustive, comprehensive search. Librarian will develop search strategy and write methods section of manuscript. Lodge M. Conducting a systematic review: finding the evidence. J Evid Based Med. 2011;4(2):135-139. doi:10.1111/j.1756-5391.2011.01130.x
Meta-Analysis A statistical test that combines the results from multiple studies to answer one or more research questions 10-12+ months Aims for exhaustive, comprehensive search. Librarian will develop search strategy and write methods section of manuscript. Møller AM, Myles PS. What makes a good systematic review and meta-analysis?. Br J Anaesth. 2016;117(4):428-430. doi:10.1093/bja/aew264

More information on review types: