There is no standard definition, but generally a systematic review is a summary of primary research in response to a specific research question.
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|Attempts to find all published and unpublished literature on the research question||Searches not exhaustive or comprehensive|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.
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.
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:
Mixed methods review
For more information on different types of review, read these journal articles (QUB log-in required):
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: