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Systematic Reviews

Other Reviews

Reviews and Definitions

Reviews come in different forms and may not extend to full-scale Systematic Reviews.

If you have been asked to undertake one of the following as an assignment, always check with your tutor(s) as to the exact requirements. 

For example, a 'Systematic Review' may actually mean a detailed literature review, using the core principles of a systematic review but without the very extensive remit of a full systematic review as carried out by a research group such as NIHR for the Cochrane Collaboration (Cochrane Library). 

The following are examples.

Umbrella Review

  • An Umbrella review reviews only systematic reviews or meta-analyses  on a topic, thus allowing “the findings of reviews relevant to a review question to be compared and contrasted” (Aromataris et al., 2015).

Systematic Literature Review

  • Involves detailed literature searching, with a survey and description of literature on a specific topic. May involve some critical analysis on the research found but less extensive and evaluative than a full Systematic Review
  • See also: University of Bath 

Scoping Review

  • The Cochrane Training platform hosts a presentation series on Scoping Reviews
  • A Scoping Search in the earlier stages of a Systematic Review is an exploratory search to gauge the extent of material available (or not) on a subject area.  Subsequent to scoping, the topic may be refined or altered to match literature availability - typically, narrowing or broadening the initial subject
  • Therefore a Scoping Review uses a detailed literature search as an exploratory tool, to identify existing coverage, gaps in the research, and the potential need (or otherwise) for a full-scale Systematic Review
  • Munn et al. (2018) discuss reasons for carrying out scoping reviews and outline differences with systematic and general literature reviews

Narrative Review

  • Equates to a general literature review, informing the rest of the work, such as a dissertation or thesis, but not as central or extensive as a Systematic Review.  Discursive and descriptive more than systematic.  See also the video at the end of this page

Literature Review

  • Involves a search for relevant literature on one or more databases, but not intended to be exhaustive or follow the steps of a Systematic Review.  Discursive and descriptive more than systematic.  See also Narrative Review

Critical Review

  • Emphasising the critical analysis of the literature retrieved, with a detailed look and comparison of articles

Rapid review

Other review types and suggested reading

References and Further Reading

For links to these and other recommended reading, go to Further Resources and Suggested Reading in this guide.


  • The following video from the Academic Skills Centre, University of Birmingham, looks at Systematic and Narrative or Literature Reviews
  • Can also be opened here in a separate tab or window

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