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Systematic Reviews

Describes what a systematic review (SR) is, whether a systematic review is right for you, Purdue Libraries support for SRs, and other resources to help in conducting a SR.

Which Review is Right for You?

The name 'systematic review' sounds like it should be the best review for everything.  We all want a review that was done in a systematic fashion.  However, SR's are specialized, require a great deal of time and effort, and are designed to answer a specific type of question. Look over the following types of reviews to determine which is most appropriate for your need.

Picking a Review Type

Indicators you might need a systematic review:

  • Your research question requires you to synthesize the existing literature to find the best practice
  • You have up to a year or more to dedicate to this project
  • You have a research team (multiple people are needed!) willing to devote significant time for the review

Indicators you do not want to do a systematic review:

  • Your advisor assigns you a SR, due in a month (they might mean a systematized review)
  • You're asked to do a SR as the literature review for your dissertation (likely a narrative review)
  • You want to find out how different researchers have tackled your project (likely a scoping review)

The good news is that librarians can help you with all different kinds of literature reviews, including helping decide which review is best for you. 

 Consult our Planning Form to clarify your research need, and then contact an appropriate librarian for guidance on how to proceed.

Types of Reviews

Systematic Review

  • Seeks to systematically search for, appraise, and synthesize research evidence, using a well-documented process, exhaustive and comprehensive searches, quality and bias assessment.  It is used to answer a specific research question to recommend effective practices, quantify uncertainty, and determine gaps in knowledge.


  • A special type of SR that statistically combines results to more precisely arrive at quantitative conclusions.

Scoping Review

  • Determines size and scope of available research...for example, as a preliminary step toward a systematic review, or to identify gaps in research.

Narrative Review

  • A 'typical' review, as one might see in the Literature Review or Background section of a journal article.  A narrative review reflects literature cited, drawing out major topics or themes, without attempting to be comprehensive or complete.

Comprehensive Review

  • Attempts to find all the relevant literature on a particular topic. Unlike a systematic review, there is very little quality assessment for inclusion/exclusion into the review.  Reviews for dissertations may be comprehensive in scope. 

Critical Review

  • Generally, a narrative review that critically examines quality and validity of prior research. 

Systematized Review

  • Utilizes elements of the SR process, but not at the same level of rigor or completeness.  It may or may not include quality assessment of studies,

See also


Examples of Systematic Reviews

Health Sciences

Wasmuth, S, Pritchard, K, Kaneshiro, K. Occupation -Based Intervention for Addictive Disorders: A Systematic Review. J Subst Abuse Treat. 2016 Mar;62(3):1-9. PMID: 26738639

Engineering Education

Hynes, M.M., Mathis, C., Purzer, S., Rynearson, A. & Siverling, E.  Systematic Review of Research in P-12 Engineering Education from 2000-2015.  International Journal of Engineering Education 33(1B): 453-462.