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Systematic Reviews

Learn how the library can support you with your systematic review.

What is a Systematic Review?

A systematic review attempts to collate all empirical evidence that fits pre-specified eligibility criteria in order to answer a specific research question.  It uses explicit, systematic methods that are selected with a view to minimizing bias, thus providing more reliable findings from which conclusions can be drawn and decisions made. The key characteristics of a systematic review are: 

  • a clearly stated set of objectives with pre-defined eligibility criteria for studies;
  • an explicit, reproducible methodology;
  • a systematic search that attempts to identify all studies that would meet the eligibility criteria;
  • an assessment of the validity of the findings of the included studies, for example through the assessment of risk of bias; and
  • a systematic presentation, and synthesis, of the characteristics and findings of the included studies.

(Chapter 1.2.2, Higgins JPT, Green S (editors). Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions Version 5.1.0 [updated March 2011]. The Cochrane Collaboration, 2011. Available from

What Are Systematic Reviews: a video from the Cochrane Consumers and Communication Group.

What is a Meta-Analysis?

A meta-analysis uses statistical methods to combine information from a number of separate but similar studies and derive conclusions on that subject. 

What is a Literature Review?

A literature review intends to provide an overview of a subject.  It does not include a systematic search of the literature or a description of the methods used in the review and is sometimes based on author experience.  These reviews may be subject to bias. 

Systematic Review vs. Literature Review

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

Other types of reviews

Rapid review -  A rapid review is like an accelerated systematic review.  It may take 2-4 months to complete. While it assesses the evidence, it lacks the rigor of a full systematic review.


Definitions for various types of reviews are available 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. Review. PubMed PMID: 19490148

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