Systematic reviews (SRs) are one of the hardest things you can do academically… but one of the most rewarding. They can find actual answers to real-world problems – even if that answer is “we don’t know the answer yet”.
A systematic review should:
To avoid bias, an SR is usually run by at least two researchers, but this may not be possible - if so, it should be noted as a limitation of the review. Professional reviews will often involve large teams looking at complex research questions. Such large studies can take months or even years to complete.
Your Subject Librarian can give advice on some of the steps in the process, such as choosing where to search (step 2), developing a search strategy (step 3), running & recording your search (step 4) and managing your search results (step 5). Refer to your supervisor for help with developing your protocol, evaluating the studies and writing up the review.
You may be asked to do a systematic review, when what your supervisor actually wants you to do is a systematic review of the literature. There are some very key differences:
|Systematic review||Systematic literature review|
|Brings together the results of studies to answer a specific question||Provides a subjective summary of the literature on a topic|
|Extensive search covering published and grey literature||Thorough search of published literature|
|Involves a detailed protocol often developed using the PICO framework||Includes a detailed search strategy|
|Usually involves three or more people to eliminate bias||Can be produced by a single person, so open to bias|
|Can take months or years to produce||Weeks or months to produce|
A type of review that uses elements of a systematic review might be called a systematised review. Rapid reviews are also conducted using elements of the methodology, as are scoping reviews.
Summary adapted from: Kysh, L. (n.d.) What's in a name? The difference between a systematic review and a literature review and why it matters.
There are many other types of review including:
For a more comprehensive overview of review types see the page below from Duke University:
The following videos offer two explanations of systematic reviews and what's involved in doing them.
The following is a selection of databases giving access to reviews in different subject areas.