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Searching for your literature review: Review types

Getting started

Doing a literature review is often an important part of any research project or exegesis. It requires you to be able to search effectively and comprehensively to find, select, interpret  and evaluate a range of scholarly literature.

You may choose or be required to do another type of review, if you do it is important to choose one that matches the aim and scope of your research.

The type of review you undertake will influence:

  • how and where you search
  • what types of evidence you look for
  • how long you spend searching

For help getting started use:

Guidelines and standards

Some discipline areas have established guidelines and reporting standards you should follow when undertaking certain types of reviews. These ensure that you follow best practices.

If you are doing a systematic review or scoping review, see the Library guides below:

Heading: Systematic Reviews

Navigate to the scoping reviews guide

Considering doing a review?

Checklist of questions to ask yourself

  1. What is the purpose of doing your review?
     
  2. What type of review best suits your needs? View the review types table on this page and talk to colleagues or supervisors.
     
  3. Do you want to do a systematic review or just a systematic search? A systematic review aims to identify, appraise and synthesise all evidence to answer a specific question and follows a strict methodology.

    A systematic search is when you search using comprehensive, transparent and reproducible methods. You may do this as part of a systematic review or another type of review.
     
  4. Are there guidelines or standards you should follow? See Overview of systematic reviews for standards and guidelines available for different types of reviews.
     

  5. Will you formally appraise the literature? Some review types will require this so see the review types table on this page. Also see Appraisal.
     

  6. Will you use more than one person to screen results? This is necessary for certain types of reviews and can take considerable time. See How to screen.
     

  7. Where do you plan to publish? What are the journal's expectations? Always check the journal website as many will state that you will need to follow certain standards and guidelines.
     

  8. How long do you have to complete your review? Some can take a long time, months or even a year.

Review types

Review types

It is critical you have a clear understanding of what each type of literature review entails. Always make sure you follow best practice guidelines and methodologies.

Table adapted from Grant & Booth 2009, pp. 94-95.

Review type Definition Search strategy Appraisal Synthesis Example
Critical review

Critical evaluation of the quality of the literature. A degree of analysis and conceptual innovation is presented to showcase existing theory or derive new theory. An outcome is normally a hypothesis or model.

Extensive searching to identify key publications.

No formal appraisal. Normally narrative but may be conceptual or chronological. Le Grande, M. et al. 2017
Literature or narrative review Examines the literature, but how complete and comprehensive this is done may depend.

May incorporate comprehensive searching.

May use formal appraisal. Tends to be narrative.  
Mapping review Maps out and categorises literature so gaps can be identified and further reviews or primary research can be undertaken.

The scope and timeframe determine how comprehensive and complete the searching is.

No formal appraisal. May include graphs and tables. Wallen, K.E. & Landon, A.C. 2020
Meta-analysis A statistical technique which combines the results from quantitative studies to give a more precise effect.

Searching is comprehensive, transparent and reproducible.

Uses formal appraisal to determine eligibility criteria and/ or sensitivity of studies. Uses graphs and tables with accompanying narrative commentary. Brinsley, J. Schuch, F. & Lederman, O. 2020
Qualitative systematic review Integrates and compares the findings from qualitative studies looking for common themes or constructs across each.

Searching may be selective or use purposeful sampling.

Formal appraisal often used. Narrative.  
Rapid review Assesses the literature to find out what is already known about a policy or practice issue.

Uses systematic review methods for the search but the timeframe determines how complete this is.

Formal appraisal occurs, but is determined by the time frame. Often consists of tables and narrative. Williams, MT, Johnston, KN & Paquet, C 2020
Scoping review Assesses the research literature to establish the potential size and scope of the evidence.

Searching is often systematic and transparent, but the scope and timeframe often determine how exhaustive and comprehensive it is.

No formal appraisal. Often consists of tables and narrative commentary.

O'Flaherty, J. & Phillips, C. 2015

Systematic review Searches for, appraises and synthesises research evidence in a systematic, comprehensive and transparent manner.

Searching is exhaustive, systematic, comprehensive and transparent.

Uses formal appraisal to determine eligibility criteria. Normally narrative with tables.  
Systematic search and review A combination of the strengths of a critical review with a comprehensive search process. Normally addresses broader questions and synthesises the best evidence.

Searching is exhaustive, systematic, comprehensive and transparent.

 

May use formal appraisal. Includes some narrative with a table summary. Deubelli, T & Mechler, R 2021
Umbrella review Compiles evidence from multiple reviews into an accessible and usable document. Often focuses on a broad condition or problem so competing interventions can be highlighted along with their results.

Searching is focused on identifying reviews.

 

Formal appraisal of reviews used. Includes graphs and tables with narrative commentary. Tsiros, M, Tian, EJ, Schultz, SP, Olds, T, Hills, AP, Duff, J & Kumar, S 2020