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Systematic and Scoping Reviews Search Methodology

Types of Reviews

Need to know the difference between review types? The links below offer some excellent background and guidance on several kinds of knowledge synthesis reviews.

Note that systematic reviews can be very time intensive (up to 18 months, by some estimates). Other review methods may be more appropriate for you if you have limited time, or are working alone. The PredicTER tool can give you an estimate of how much time may be needed for your review. 

Systematic Reviews


Social Sciences and Education

Environmental Science


Systematic Reviews Compared to Literature Reviews

This table highlights key differences between systematic reviews (and other types of knowledge synthesis review) and literature reviews (sometimes called narrative reviews):

Category Systematic Review Literature Review

To find the answer to a specific research question.

This question is developed and may be registered before the systematic review begins.
Need not answer a question. Answers the question “What do we know about _?” Critical; synthesis of theories and approaches to a problem or topic. Conceptual categories
Methodology As prescribed precisely by PRISMA. Documentation of methodology must be included in the review. Varies by discipline and topic
Criteria for evidence Pre-defined and confirmed by 2+ raters. Empirical, qualitative evidence; may include discussion of and analysis of theoretical frameworks, etc.
Criteria for inclusion may not be stated.
Type of publications retrieved from search Primary research, e.g. peer-reviewed journal articles, clinical trials, conference proceedings. Varies by discipline and topic but may include primary sources (e.g. archival materials, datasets), as well as monographs, journal articles and proceedings.
Database(s) search terms and strategies Documented, and forms part of most systematic reviews, typically as an appendix; aim is replicability Documentation of database search(es) not typically required in completed review.

For more information, please see: Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions Chapter 4: Searching for and Selecting Studies