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:
(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 www.cochrane-handbook.org.)
What Are Systematic Reviews: a video from the Cochrane Consumers and Communication Group.
A meta-analysis uses statistical methods to combine information from a number of separate but similar studies and derive conclusions on that subject.
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.
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