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Systematic Reviews

How do I choose?

There are many types of reviews out there, each designed for a specific purpose. It is important you ask yourself some questions when deciding on reviews. 

  • What is the nature of your question?
    • Is the question best answered by quantitative studies (systematic review; meta-analysis) or qualitative studies (meta-synthesis) or both (integrative review)?
    • Are you more interested in describing the nature and extent of the research in a particular area rather than answering a specific question (scoping review)?
  • Is the review to be undertaken by a team or will you be conducting this on your own?
    • To minimize bias, a true systematic review is supposed to be undertaken by a review team, with screening and appraisal conducted independently by at least two team members with a third member available to settle disagreements.
    • A meta-analysis requires the pooling and statistical analysis of study results.  If you do not have the expertise in statistical analysis, will you be on a team that includes a statistician?
    • Reviews labeled 'systematic reviews' with single authors do appear in the form of Masters theses, PhD dissertations and capping projects, but a review labeled as a systematic review authored by a single person is not likely to be published.  
      • It is still possible to have a non-systematic review (e.g. critical reviews, narrative reviews)  published in a reputable journal.  Might it be better to avoid labeling your review as a systematic review if it does not meet the criteria of a true systematic review? 
  • How much time do you have to work on this project?
    • Reviews take time and the timeframe depends on the review you choose. For example, 18 months is the timeframe given for completing a systematic review. If you do not have that much time, you could consider a rapid review. 
  • How much literature do you expect to retrieve? 
    • Will you have the time to screen your search results and summarize included studies in the time frame allotted if you undertake one of the more rigorous types of reviews?
  • What are the expectations of your supervisor?
    • Are they expecting you to do a specific type of review?
    • It is a good idea to discuss with your supervisor exactly what they expect of the review, e.g. do they expect you to use the PRISMA guidelines, will they accept a 'mini' version of one of the more rigorous reviews if time and resources are limited?

Types of Reviews

There are many different types of reviews and you will benefit from choosing the most appropriate review for your project: 

Further Reading