Skip to main content

Systematic Reviews: What is a systematic review?

What is a systematic review?

  Questions by Russ Allison Loar

A Systematic Review is a review of a clearly formulated question that uses systematic and reproducible methods to identify, select and critically appraise all relevant research, and to collect and analyse data from the studies that are included in the review. A systematic review can be either quantitative or qualitative.

A quantitative systematic review will include studies that have numerical data.
A qualitative systematic review derives data from observation, interviews, or verbal interactions and focuses on the meanings and interpretations of the participants. It will include focus groups, interviews, observations and diaries.

Examples of different kinds of reviews

Narrative review
Young adults with intellectual disability transitioning from school to post-school: A literature review framed within the ICF. 

Systematic review
Self-management education programs for age-related macular degeneration: A systematic review

Systematic review protocol
The recurrence of child maltreatment: Predictive validity of risk assessment instruments. The Campbell Library.

Review article
Social Factors and recovery from mental health difficulties: A review of the evidence.



Systematic review or a literature review?

This table outlines the differences between a systematic review and a literature review:

Adapted from: University of Newcastle Australia Library

Difference between a systematic review and scoping review

Systematic Review Scoping Review
Focused research question with narrow parameters Research question(s) often broad
Inclusion/exclusion usually defined at outset Inclusion/exclusion can be developed post hoc
Quality filters often applied Quality not an initial priority
Detailed data extraction May or may not involve data extraction
Quantitative synthesis often performed Synthesis more qualitative and typically not quantitative
Formally assesses the quality of studies and generates a conclusion relating to the focused research question Used to identify parameters and gaps in a body of literature                                                                                      

Adapted from: Armstrong, R., Hall, B.J., Doyle, J., & Waters, E. (2011). 'Scoping the scope' of a Cochrane review. Journal of Public Health, 33(1), 147-50.