Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Systematic Reviews: Overview

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:

Ask a Librarian

Work with a librarian on your next systematic review! Request an appointment to meet with us. 

Need assistance with library resources or services? Ask a librarian! We are available via chat, email, phone or texting during staffed hours. 

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

MCW Libraries
8701 Watertown Plank Road
Milwaukee, WI 53226
(414) 955-8300

Contact Us
Locations & Hours
Send Us Your Comments