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Systematic and Systematic-Style Reviews


This library guide provides:

  • an overview of systematic and systematic-style reviews
  • how to navigate the systematic review process; and
  • how to get support from the library.

What is a systematic review?

A systematic review is much more than a literature review. It uses an explicit searching methodology to perform a comprehensive search and critical appraisal of selected primary studies with the aim of reducing bias to answer a clearly defined research question.  

Cochrane reviews are considered the gold standard of systematic reviews. Watch the clip below for further explanation. 


Systematic reviews include: 

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

  • an explicit, reproducible search strategy and methodology 

  • a systematic search that attempts to identify all studies that would 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, 1.2.2)

What is a systematic-style review?

A systematic-style review follows a similar process to systematic reviews, but they may include fewer databases, use less stringent inclusion and exclusion criteria, and have a less detailed protocol. The purpose of a systematic-style review is to provide a broad overview of the available literature on a topic rather than to provide a definitive answer to a specific research question.

What kind of review is for you?

The first step is to determine what kind of review is right for your research question. 

The review type will depend on your:

  • discipline
  • purpose and desired outcomes
  • review question
  • timeframe
  • publishing aims.

Speak with your supervisor or team leader before choosing a review type, or consult the tools below. 

Scoping reviews

What is a scoping review?

A scoping review aims to assess the scope of literature in a particular field or research area, identifying gaps in the literature and potential areas for future research. It is typically broader in scope and less focused than a systematic review, and is often the first step toward undertaking a full systematic review. 

Munn et al. (2018) have since established an expanded definition and purpose of scoping reviews to include the following features:

  • To identify the types of available evidence in a given field
  • To clarify key concepts/definitions in the literature
  • To examine how research is conducted on a certain topic or field
  • To identify key characteristics or factors related to a concept
  • As a precursor to a systematic review
  • To identify and analyse knowledge gaps

Conducting a full systematic review is a more rigorous process, and you will need about two to three researchers on your team to ensure the elimination of bias in the review process. 

Registering your scoping review protocol

The best place to register your scoping review protocol is the OSF or the JBI Systematic Review Register (some other platforms, such as PROSPERO, no longer accept the registration of these kinds of reviews). 

Documenting results

Documenting results is important for both scoping reviews and systematic reviews. While scoping reviews and systematic reviews have different aims and methods, both involve a comprehensive search for relevant studies and the synthesis of evidence to answer a research question.

Further learning

You can also consult the JBI Manual for Evidence Synthesis for guidance on conducting scoping reviews, and the University of South Australia's library guide on scoping reviews, or watch the clip below for further information.

Finding and registering reviews

Check and register your review 

Once you have formulated your research question and decided the type of review you will conduct, you will need to check whether your research question has been answered. Reviews that are currently in progress are called protocols. Protocols outline the scope and intention of the review. 

You can access the registers below to check and register your review:

Find systematic & systematic-style reviews 

Take a look at some examples of published systematic reviews so you know what you are working towards. Systematic reviews are conducted more commonly in fields like health and medicine, yet, increasingly, they are also being published in other disciplines such as humanities, education and sciences. 

You can find systematic reviews in several key databases (use it as a search term, or limit) - here are some key sources: