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Systematic Reviews: Introduction

Subject Guide prepared by QUB Subject Librarians that will help you decide if a systematic review is right for your project, and guide you through the systematic review process
Welcome to the Library’s Systematic Review Subject Guide

New to systematic reviews? This page highlights things you might want to consider before making a start. The systematic review process requires a lot of preparation, detailed searching and analysing. It may take longer than you think to complete!

What is a systematic review? 

There is no standard definition, but generally a systematic review is a summary of primary research in response to a specific research question.

Systematic review, or systematic literature review: what's the difference?

The first thing to consider is if you are actually undertaking a systematic review, or do you just want to do a systematic literature review? If you need help in deciding, the following table may help: 

Systematic review  Literature review 
Thorough knowledge of topic required  Some understanding of topic required 

Answers a clearly defined research question, using explicit inclusion/exclusion criteria 

Provides an overview of a topic, with no reason given as to why studies are included or excluded 
Assessment of bias and quality of the evidence  No consideration of quality of studies 
Attempts to find all published and unpublished literature on the research question  Searches not exhaustive or comprehensive 
Process well documented, analysed and reported in a specific format  Searches not documented in a detailed way 
Supports evidence based practice and identifies gaps in research  Provides a summary of literature on a topic 

If you are not doing a formal systematic review, but just want to search the literature systematically, this guide may still be helpful to you, but you won’t have to follow all the steps in the process.

Unsure about which search method to use?

The best person to speak to is your Supervisor, who will be able to advise you about the best method to use for your search.

Types of systematic review

Once you have decided you are going to undertake a systematic review, your next step is to consider which type of systematic review you would like to complete.  

In addition to the ‘standard’ systematic review, there are other associated types. These are some of the most common:  

  • Meta-analysis 

  • Narrative review 

  • Mixed methods review 

  • Rapid review 

  • Umbrella review  

For more information on different types of review, read these journal articles (QUB log-in required):

What the Library can do for you

Each step of the systematic review process may involve engagement with other colleagues or supervisors.

Subject Librarians provide a range of training in the use of databases throughout the year. Also, this guide notes the specific aspects of the systematic review process for which you can seek additional support by making an appointment with your Subject Librarian..

This guide is closely aligned with the structure of the following book, which may be borrowed from the Library: