Skip to Main Content

Library Subject Guides

Systematic Reviews: Home

Library support

Here’s how Subject Librarians can help with your systematic review:

– Help formulate your PICO question

– Assist with developing search strategies across appropriate databases

– Provide advice on how to document the search for the methods section of your review

– EndNote and Zotero support support

– Research data management

What is a systematic review?

Systematic reviews aim to find and evaluate all studies, published and unpublished, relevant to a research question, see this helpful video for an overview. They use systematic methods to minimise bias and they also use transparent methods that allow for replication and verification

Key characteristics

• a clearly stated set of objectives with pre-defined eligibility criteria for studies;

• an explicit, reproducible methodology;

• a systematic search that attempts to identify all studies that meet the eligibility criteria;

• an assessment of the validity of the findings of the included studies, for example through the assessment of risk of bias

• a systematic presentation, and synthesis, of the characteristics and findings of the included studies.

Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions. (2019). p.xxiii

What is a meta-analysis?

A meta-analysis is an optional component of a systematic review. A meta analysis uses statistical methods to quantitatively evaluate pooled data from single studies. 

If you are writing a systematic review, you need to decide whether it makes sense to include a meta analysis. This can be a difficult decision, see the books listed on this page for guidance.

Systematic reviews and other types of reviews

Is a systematic review the right approach for the question you're asking? 

Greenhalgh, T., Thorne, S., & Malterud, K. (2018). Time to challenge the spurious hierarchy of systematic over narrative reviews? European Journal of Clinical Investigation48(6), e12931.

For a description of commonly used review types in Health Sciences:

Grant, M. J., & Booth, A. (2009). A typology of reviews: An analysis of 14 review types and associated methodologies. Health Information & Libraries Journal, 26(2), 91–108.

Sutton, A., Clowes, M., Preston, L., & Booth, A. (2019). Meeting the review family: exploring review types and associated information retrieval requirements. Health Information & Libraries Journal36(3), 202-222. 

The table below is adapted from this article.


Systematic review Traditional literature review

Seeks to systematically search for, appraise and synthesise research evidence, often adhering to guidelines on the conduct of a review

Generic term: published materials that provide an examination of recent or current literature.

Can cover wide range of subjects at various levels of comprehensiveness. May include research findings


Aims for exhaustive, comprehensive searching

May or may not include comprehensive searching


Quality assessment may determine inclusion/exclusion

May or may not include quality assessment. Relies on author's judgment

Typically narrative, with tabular accompaniment
Typically narrative

What is known; recommendations for practice. What remains unknown; uncertainty around findings, recommendations for future research

May include meta analysis

Analysis may be chronological, conceptual, thematic, etc

Subject Librarian

Profile Photo
Margaret Paterson

NOTE: Appointments are available via Zoom or in-person in Central Library. Email me with any questions relating to Psychology, Speech and Hearing, or Health Sciences.

Chat requires JavaScript.
Central Library
tel:3693921 (internal 93921)
Subjects: Health, Science

Additional resources

NHS Centre for Reviews and Dissemination (CRD). (2008). Systematic reviews: CRD's guidance for undertaking reviews in health care.