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Systematic Reviews

Explaining the systematic review process and the resources available at the Dana Health Sciences Library.

Definition of 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

Systematic reviews are part of a larger category of research methodologies known as evidence syntheses or knowledge syntheses. While many types of evidence syntheses exist, these are the methodologies that the Dana Health Sciences Library is prepared to support and collaborate on.

Review Methods

There are many types of reviews, and choosing the right one can be challenging. The list below provides a general overview of six popular review types. If you are still unsure of which one to choose, please try the Right Review tool, which asks you a series of questions to help you determine which review methodology might be suitable for your project. When you are finished, please feel free to discuss the results with your librarian.


Review Type

Typical Use

Important Notes

Systematic Review

  • Ask a specific research question
  • Use pre-specified inclusion criteria
  • Appraise and synthesize evidence
  • Extended time commitment
  • Should follow a prepared research protocol
  • Transparent and replicable research methods
  • more information

Scoping Review

  • Ask a broader research question
  • Identify gaps
  • Understand the size/reach of the literature on a topic
  • Extended time commitment
  • Could involve multiple searches
  • Transparent and replicable research methods
  • more information

Umbrella Review

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

Literature/Narrative Review

  • Summarize or comment on the literature
  • Varying levels of comprehensiveness
  • Methods may vary or be unstated
  • more information

Critical Review

  • Extensive research and critical evaluation of a topic
  • Looks for significant contributions
  • Typically has a narrative output
  • Launching point for further investigation
  • Methods may vary or be unstated
  • more information

Systematized Review

  • Use elements of the systematic review process
  • When resources are limited 
  • Used as a graduate student course assignment
  • May be limited in comprehensiveness due to time constraints 

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 References

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. (2019) Guideline: Process of information retrieval for systematic reviews and health technology assessments on clinical effectiveness Version 2.0. DEC 2019. 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:

This website has been adapted from the Northwestern University Galter Health Sciences Library's Systematic Reviews guide.