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Systematic Reviews

Systematic review services and guidance at Galter Library

What is a systematic review?

“A systematic review attempts to identify, appraise and synthesize all the empirical evidence that meets pre-specified eligibility criteria to answer a given research question. Researchers conducting systematic reviews use explicit methods aimed at minimizing bias, in order to produce more reliable findings that can be used to inform decision making.” 

- About Cochrane Reviews, Cochrane Library

Review Types

Review Type

Typical Use

Important Notes

Systematic Review

  • Ask a specific research question
  • Use pre-specified inclusion criteria
  • Appraise and synthesize the evidence
  • Extended time commitment
  • Should follow a prepared research protocol

Scoping Review

  • Ask a broader question
  • Identify gaps
  • Understand the size/reach of a topic
  • Extended time commitment
  • Could involve multiple searches


Mapping Review

  • Categorize existing knowledge
  • Identify gaps in literature
  • Seeks to understand connections/links
  • Does not synthesize results/findings (categorizes)

Literature/Narrative Review

  • Summarize or comment on the literature
  • Varying levels of comprehensiveness

Umbrella Review

  • Review multiple high-level reviews
  • Focus on competing interventions
  • Must include data synthesis
  • Follows systematic review methods (only includes SRs & meta analyses)

Systematized Review

  • Uses elements of the systematic review process
  • When resources are limited
  • Used as a graduate assignment
  • May be limited in comprehensiveness
  • Limited consideration of methodology

Critical Review

  • Extensive research and critical evaluation of a topic
  • Looks for significant contributions
  • Typically has a narrative output
  • Subjective output
  • Launching point for further investigation

Chart adapted from: Grant MJ, Booth A. A typology of reviews: an analysis of 14 review types and associated methodologies. Health Info Libr J. 2009 Jun;26(2):91-108. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-1842.2009.00848.x.

Standards & Guidance

Here are some standards and additional research synthesis methods papers to get you started:

Chandler, J., Churchill, R., Higgins, J., Lasserson, T., & Tovey, D. (2013). Methodological standards for the conduct of new Cochrane Intervention Reviews, Version 2.3. Available from

European Network for Health Technology Assessment. (2015) Guideline: Process of information retrieval for systematic reviews and health technology assessments on clinical effectiveness. JUL 2015. Available from:

Higgins, J., Green, S., & (editors). (2011). Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions Version 5.1.0  [updated March 2011]. J. Higgins & S. Green (Eds.), Available from:  

IOM (Institute of Medicine). (2011). Finding What Works in Health Care: Standards for Systematic Reviews. Available from:

Liberati, A., Altman, D. G., Tetzlaff, J., Mulrow, C., Gotzsche, P. C., Ioannidis, J. P., . . . Moher, D. (2009). The PRISMA statement for reporting systematic reviews and meta-analyses of studies that evaluate health care interventions: explanation and elaboration. PLoS Medicine, 6(7), e1000100. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1000100. Available from:

Moher, D., Liberati, A., Tetzlaff, J., Altman, D. G., & Prisma Group. (2009). Preferred reporting items for systematic reviews and meta-analyses: the PRISMA statement. PLoS Medicine, 6(7), e1000097. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1000097. Available from:

Moher D., Shamseer L., Clarke M., Ghersi D., Liberati A., Petticrew M., . . . PRISMA-P Group (2015). Preferred reporting items for systematic review and meta-analysis protocols (PRISMA-P) 2015 statement. Systematic Reviews, 4(1), doi:10.1186/2046-4053-4-1. Availalble from:  

Rader, T., Mann, M., Stansfield, C., Cooper, C., & Sampson, M. (2013). Methods for documenting systematic review searches: a discussion of common issues. Research Synthesis Methods, Article first published online: 8 OCT 2013. doi: 10.1002/jrsm.1097. Available from:

Rethlefsen, M. L., Murad, M., & Livingston, E. H. (2014). Engaging medical librarians to improve the quality of review articles. JAMA, 312(10), 999-1000. doi: 10.1001/jama.2014.9263. Availalble from:

Shamseer, L., Moher, D., Clarke, M., Ghersi, D., Liberati, A. D., Petticrew, M., . . . PRISMA-P Group. (2015). Preferred reporting items for systematic review and meta-analysis protocols (PRISMA-P) 2015: elaboration and explanation. BMJ, 349, g7647. doi: 10.1136/bmj.g7647. Available from:

Umscheid, C. A. (2013). A Primer on Performing Systematic Reviews and Meta-analyses. Clinical Infectious Diseases, 57(5), 725-734. doi: 10.1093/cid/cit333. Available from: