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Systematic Reviews: Home

A guide for researchers undertaking a systematic review


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Banner image source: Pixabay 12345 licensed under a CC0 Public Domain licence 

Types of reviews

Systematic reviews aim to provide a comprehensive, unbiased synthesis of many relevant studies into a single document using rigorous and transparent methods. A systematic review aims to synthesize and summarize existing knowledge in order to inform policy and practice. 

Systematic reviews:

  • Attempt to uncover "all" of the evidence relevant to a question.
  • Should be conducted by review groups with specialized skills.
  • Set out to retrieve international evidence.
  • Follow a structured research process that requires rigorous methods to ensure that the results are unbiased, reliable and meaningful to end users.
  • Have pre-determined search strategies and eligibility criteria.
  • May or may not include a meta-analysis.
    Adapted from: Aromataris E, Munn Z (editors). Joanna Briggs Institute Reviewer's Manual. The Joanna Briggs Institute, 2017. Available from 


Library support for systematic reviewers

Librarians can:

  • Assist to formulate your search strategy.
  • Provide guidance on the identification of appropriate databases and other information resources.
  • Provide general feedback on your search strategy.
  • Assist in translating your search strategy across databases/information resources.
  • Advise on the management of search results.
  • Advise on the recording and reporting of your search strategy.

UWA Librarians are not able to construct or execute the search on your behalf or collate results.

Please contact your faculty team to book a consultation with a librarian.

A literature review, or narrative review, is an attempt to obtain and synthesise the results and conclusions of key publications on a given topic. Literature reviews often do not answer one specific question like a systematic review does, and they usually bring together a summary of the literature in a qualitative manner. They may be a first step in determining the current state of the literature on a topic.

A literature review may be undertaken in a systematic way in order to be comprehensive, without being a systematic review. It is important to recognise the differences between the two and determine which type of review is best suited to your needs - or whether one of the other reviews detailed here is more applicable.

Literature reviews:

  • provide a (generally qualitative) summary of the relevant literature, as determined by the author.
  • do not necessarily provide an analysis of the literature or its quality.
  • usually do not include a description of the methodology of the search process.
  • refer to key journal literature without going into the grey literature.
  • don't always answer a specific research question.
  • are not protocol driven.


Scoping reviews can be used to map the key concepts underpinning a research area as well as to clarify working definitions, and/or the conceptual boundaries of a topic. Scoping reviews may be undertaken as a preliminary exercise prior to the conduct of a systematic review, or as a stand alone review.

Scoping reviews may:

  • Provide direction for the ensuing systematic review or reviews or to help reviewers identify and define more precise questions and suitable inclusion criteria.
  • Assist to examine emerging evidence when it is still unclear what other, more specific questions can be posed and valuably addressed.
  • Examine broad areas to identify gaps in the evidence, clarify key concepts, and report on the types of evidence that address and inform practice in a topic area.
  • Be used to map evidence in relation to time, location, source and/or origin.

Adapted from: Peters MDJ, Godfrey C, McInerney P, Baldini Soares C, Khalil H, Parker D. Chapter 11: Scoping Reviews. In: Aromataris E, Munn Z (Editors). Joanna Briggs Institute Reviewer's Manual. The Joanna Briggs Institute, 2017. Available from 

You might also like to read the following article for more clarity on the difference between a systematic review and a scoping review:

Munn Z, Peters MDJ, Stern C, Tufanaru C, McArthur A, Aromataris E. Systematic review or scoping review? Guidance for authors when choosing between a systematic or scopus review approach. BMC Med Res Methodol. 2018;18:143.

Rapid reviews are a form of accelerated systematic review. They are usually undertaken when decision makers have urgent and emerging needs which require evidence produced on a short time frame. Typically, to compensate for the short time frame of a rapid review, methodological rigour may be sacrificed. For example, the grey literature may not be sought and preference may be given to the more readily available research published and written in English. 

Adapted from: Rapid reviews. HLWIKI International. 2017. 

Umbrella reviews are sometimes referred to as a "review of reviews". They are an attempt to identify and appraise, extract and summarise all the evidence from research syntheses related to a topic or question. 

Umbrella reviews may:

  • Include analyses of different interventions for the same problem or condition.
  • Analyse the same intervention and condition, but different outcomes.
  • Analyse the same intervention but different conditions, problems or populations.

Umbrella reviews offer the possibility to address a broad scope of issues related to the topic of interest.

Adapted from: Aromataris E, Fernandez R, Godfrey C, Holly C, Khalil H, Tungpunkom P. Chapter 10: Umbrella Reviews. In: Aromataris E, Munn Z (Editors). Joanna Briggs Institute Reviewer's Manual. The Joanna Briggs Institute, 2017. Available from