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Types of reviews 

A PhD or a Masters by Research thesis will include a chapter devoted to a review of the literature. This type of review is known as a traditional or narrative review, or simply a literature review. 

The following table outlines the different features of a systematic review and a traditional literature review.

Features Systematic review Literature review
Aim Tightly specified objectives to answer a specific research question Gain a broad understanding and description of a field
Scope Narrow focus Big picture
Planning the review Transparent process with documented audit trail defined in a protocol Nothing defined, allows for creativity and exploration
Searches Rigorous and comprehensive search for ALL studies, explicit search strategy across numerous sources Searching is probing, moving from study to study, following-up leads
Study selection Predetermined criteria for including  and excluding studies uniformly applied Selection is variable as determined by the reviewer
Appraisal Checklists to assess the quality of studies Based on the reviewer’s opinion
Synthesis Tabular format with short summary answers Discursive
Methodology Must be presented for transparency Not necessarily provided
Inferences Based on all available evidence Based on a sample of the evidence
Timeline Months to years (average 18 months) Weeks to months
Authors Three or more One or more
Value Connects practising clinicians to high-quality evidence; Informs evidence-based practice Provides a summary of literature on a topic


Some brief information about other types of reviews, such as scoping reviews, rapid reviews, and meta-analyses is available from the online library guide: Systematic Reviews


Watch the following short video to learn about the difference between a systematic review and a meta-analysis.

The Difference Between a Systematic Review and Meta-analysis (4:44 mins) by UniSA Library (YouTube)


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