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Systematic reviews and other evidence synthesis projects

Types of reviews

Although systematic reviews are one of the most well-known review types, there are a variety of different types of reviews that vary in terms of scope, comprehensiveness, time constraints, and types of studies included.

The best review for your project depends on the intersection of:

  • your research goals
  • your research question
  • your time frame
  • your research team

Several tools are provided below to help you identify which type of review is best suited for your research.

Identifying the right review type for your project - start here!

A summary of review types

Type of Review Description Time to Complete Search Strategy Other Information

Narrative/Literature Review

(standalone lit review articles, not lit review sections of a larger research article)

Collates relevant studies and draws conclusions from them.

2+ months

Search strategy not typically reported. Not comprehensive, which could introduce bias.
Librarian advising available.

Collins JA, Fauser BC. Balancing the strengths of systematic and narrative reviewsHum Reprod Update. 2005;11(2):103-104. doi:10.1093/humupd/dmh058

Rapid Review

Assesses what is already known about a policy or practice issue by using systematic review methods to search and critically appraise existing research.

2-6+ months

Completeness of searching determined by time constraints. Librarian collaboration recommended.

Khangura S, Konnyu K, Cushman R, Grimshaw J, Moher D. Evidence summaries: the evolution of a rapid review approachSyst Rev. 2012;1:10. Published 2012 Feb 10. doi:10.1186/2046-4053-1-10

Tricco AC, Langlois EV, Straus SE. Rapid reviews to strengthen health policy and systems: a practical guide. Geneva: World Health Organization, 2017.

Rapid reviews from the ground up video series from Cochrane Training, 2017

Cochrane Rapid Reviews Methods Group

Integrative Review

Reviews, critiques, and synthesizes representative literature on a topic in an integrated way such that new frameworks and perspectives on the topic are generated.

2-10+ months

Aims for exhaustive, comprehensive search. Librarian collaboration recommended.

Whittemore R, Knafl K. The integrative review: updated methodologyJ Adv Nurs. 2005;52(5):546-553. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2648.2005.03621.x

Umbrella Review

Reviews other systematic reviews and meta-analyses on a topic.
Focuses on a broad condition or problem for which there are competing interventions and highlights reviews that address these interventions and their results.

2+ months

Identification of component reviews but no search for primary studies. Librarian collaboration recommended.

Aromataris E, Fernandez R, Godfrey C, Holly C, Khalil H, Tungpunkom P. Chapter 10: Umbrella Reviews. In: Aromataris E, Munn Z (Editors). JBI Manual for Evidence Synthesis. JBI, 2020. Available from doi:10.46658/JBIMES-20-11

Smith V, Devane D, Begley CM, Clarke M. Methodology in conducting a systematic review of systematic reviews of healthcare interventionsBMC Med Res Methodol. 2011;11(1):15. Published 2011 Feb 3. doi:10.1186/1471-2288-11-15

Scoping Review

Presents a preliminary assessment of the potential size and scope of available research literature.
Aims to identify nature and extent of research evidence (usually including ongoing research).

10-12+ months

Completeness of searching determined by time/scope constraints. Librarian collaboration recommended.

Arskey H, O'Malley L. Scoping studies: towards a methodological frameworkInt J of Soc Research Meth: Theory and Prac. 2005; 8:1.

Peters MDJ, Godfrey C, McInerney P, Munn Z, Tricco AC, Khalil, H. Scoping Reviews (2020). In: Aromataris E, Munn Z (Editors). JBI Manual for Evidence Synthesis, JBI, 2020. Available from doi:10.46658/JBIMES-20-12

JBI - Scoping Review Network

Daudt HM, van Mossel C, Scott SJ. Enhancing the scoping study methodology: a large, inter-professional team's experience with Arksey and O'Malley's frameworkBMC Med Res Methodol. 2013;13:48. Published 2013 Mar 23. doi:10.1186/1471-2288-13-48

Systematic Review

Attempts to identify, appraise, and synthesize all the empirical evidence that meets pre-specified eligibility criteria to answer a given research question.
Uses explicit methods aimed at minimizing bias in order to produce more reliable findings that can be used to inform decision making.

10-12+ months

Aims for exhaustive, comprehensive search. Librarian collaboration recommended.

Lodge M. Conducting a systematic review: finding the evidenceJ Evid Based Med. 2011;4(2):135-139. doi:10.1111/j.1756-5391.2011.01130.x



Guides for Conducting Systematic Reviews 


A statistical test that combines the results from multiple studies to answer one or more research questions

10-12+ months

Aims for exhaustive, comprehensive search. Statistician collaboration recommended. Librarian collaboration recommended.

Møller AM, Myles PS. What makes a good systematic review and meta-analysis?Br J Anaesth. 2016;117(4):428-430. doi:10.1093/bja/aew264

Based on University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Health Sciences Library. Types of Reviews. Systematic Reviews website. Updated January 29, 2021. Accessed September 21, 2021.

Further reading on review types