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Systematic Reviews

What is a Rapid Review?

"Rapid reviews are a form of evidence synthesis that may provide more timely information for decision making compared with standard systematic reviews." (AHRQ)  The methods of conducting rapid reviews varies widely, and are typically done in less than 5 weeks.  Often policy makers require a short deadline and a systematic review for synthesizing the evidence is not practical.  A rapid review speeds up the systematic review process by omitting stages of the systematic review making it less rigorous.  

Rapid Reviews are best designed for:

Broader PICO questions, new or emerging research topics, updates of previous reviews, critical topics, to assess what is already known about a policy or practice using some systematic review methods.


  • Search is not as comprehensive
  • In come cases, there may only be one reviewer.
  • Possible non-blinded appraisal and selection
  • Limited/cautious interpretation of the findings
  • No universally accepted definition of a "rapid review"
  • Be mindful of limitations and potential biases when cutting corners.
  • Can impact policy and practice but systematic reviews are still needed
  • You still need a content expert and those experienced with systematic reviews

(Source: Cochrane: Rapid Reviews-An Introduction (2014))

How a Rapid Review Differs from a Systematic Review

Timeframe: ≤ 5 weeks (varies)  
 *Varies beyond the type of review. Depends on many factors such as but not limited to: resources available, the quantity and quality of the literature, and the expertise or experience of reviewers" (Grant et al. 2009)

Question: Answers a broader PICO

Sources and searches: Sources are limited due to time constraints of searching, however still uses transparent and reproducible search methods.

Selection: Based on inclusion/exclusion criteria

Appraisal: Critical and rigorous but time limited

Synthesis: Descriptive summary or categorization of data, may still be quantitative

(Source: Khangura S. et al. (2012) Evidence summaries: the evolution of a rapid review approach)

Before you Meet With A Librarian

To get a better sense of your project, we suggest making an appointment with a librarian. 

Before your consultation, we suggest you do the following prior to the consultation:

  • Educate yourself about the type of review you will be undertaking
  • Familiarize yourself with the processes involved for that type of review
  • Develop a protocol/proposal for your prospective review
    • If you have already developed a protocol/proposal, provide this to the librarian you will be meeting with.
    • If you haven't already developed a protocol/proposal, take a look at how to create one. 
  • Find 2-5 articles that fit your research question.
  • If you do not already have some basic familiarity with search principles, consider viewing Finding Health Literature: Keys to Searching PubMed, CINAHL & Scopus