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Systematic Review Program: Other Review Types

Choosing a review type

Not every review is a systematic review.

Be sure to select the review type that matches the purpose and scope of your project.

All reviews should be methodical - done in a careful and deliberate manner.  

Questions to ask yourself:

  • What is the purpose of this review? 
  • What is the research question?
  • How long do I have to complete it?
  • Am I doing it alone or part of a team?
  • How much of the literature do I need to capture?
  • Does my literature search have to be transparent and replicable?

Involve a Librarian

The quality of any type of literature review can be enhanced through use of comprehensive literature searches and detailed documentation of search strategies.  A librarian who provides these contributions should be included as a co-author on the final work product(s) that arise from the project, including conference abstracts and manuscripts.

Rethlefsen ML, Murad MH, Livingston EH. Engaging Medical Librarians to Improve the Quality of Review Articles. JAMA. 2014 Sep 10;312(10):999-1000.


Literature searches in bibliographic databases for any of these review types may produce thousands of records.

Your ability to successfully organize and manage these records will impact your ability to complete your review.

Librarians typically do not participate in the creation of databases used to manage results, but we can provide you with resources about managing search results. See: Data Management 

Selected review types

Narrative Reviews

  • Useful in tracing concept development
  • Scope is broad and comprehensive
  • Methodology is not standardized 
  • Journal requirements vary -  check the journal's instruction for authors

Collins JA, Fauser BC. Balancing the strengths of systematic and narrative reviews. Hum Reprod Update. 2005 Mar-Apr;11(2):103-4.

Reviews of Reviews (Umbrella)

  • Systematic review using only systematic reviews as subjects
  • Synthesizes systematic reviews of same topic
  • Assesses scope and quality of individual systematic reviews

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

Realist Reviews

  • Focuses on context and process
  • Uses an iterative protocol
  • Useful for complex policy interventions     

Rycroft-Malone J, McCormack B, Hutchinson AM, DeCorby K, Bucknall TK, Kent B, Schultz A, Snelgrove-Clarke E, Stetler CB, Titler M, Wallin L, Wilson V. Realist synthesis: illustrating the method for implementation research. Implement Sci.2012 Apr 19;7:33. doi: 10.1186/1748-5908-7-33.

Rapid Reviews

  • Used on emerging issues needing quick answers
  • Use systematic review methods
  • Time constraints (often ≤3 months)

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

Scoping Reviews

  • Looks at broad research question
  • Creates broad literature map to find gaps
  • Uses qualitative synthesis

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 framework. BMC Med Res Methodol. 2013 Mar 23;13:48. doi: 10.1186/1471-2288-13-48.

Systematic Reviews

  • Addresses a specific question
  • Uses specified methodology
  • Requires a team and long term commitment

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

Additional discussion of review types

Fourteen review types and associated methodologies were compared and contrasted using SALSA (Search, Appraisal, Synthesis and Analysis) framework.

IN: Grant MJ, Booth A. A typology of reviews: an analysis of 14 review types and associated methodologies. Health Info Libr J. 2009 Jun;26(2):91-108. doi:10.1111/j.1471-1842.2009.00848.x.

Request systematic review help

To request a systematic review consultation:

What consultation services can be provided? see HSLS Support

Who's eligible?

  • faculty, staff and students in the Schools of the Health Sciences, University of Pittsburgh
  • UPMC Residents and Fellows
  • UPMC physicians with University of Pittsburgh faculty appointments

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