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Systematic and Scoping Reviews

What is a Systematic Review

A systematic review gathers, assesses, and synthesizes all available empirical research on a specific question using a comprehensive search method with an aim to minimize bias. Researchers try to answer a well-defined question using existing primary research as evidence. A protocol is used to plan the systematic review methods prior to the project, including what is and is not included in the search.

Systematic reviews are usually done as a team project, requiring cooperation and a commitment of lots of time and effort over an extended period. You will need at least 3 people and, depending on the scope of the project and the size of the database result sets, you should plan for 6-24 months from start to completion.

A scoping review seeks to present an overview of a potentially large and diverse body of literature pertaining to a broad topic.

Literature reviews don't usually apply the same rigour in their methods. That's because, unlike systematic reviews, they don't aim to produce an answer to a clinical question. Literature reviews can provide context or background information for a new piece of research.

Systematic reviews are often used as the foundation for a meta analysis (a statistical process that combines the findings from individual studies) and to re-evaluate clinical guidelines.

Systematic reviews and meta analyses are both types of evidence synthesis methods. Read more about evidence synthesis on the Types of Reviews page of this guide.