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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Literature Reviews in Medicine and Health

Overview of types of literature reviews

What is a Systematic Review?

A systematic review  “attempts to collate all empirical evidence that fits pre-specified eligibility criteria in order to answer a specific research question. It uses explicit, systematic methods that are selected with a view to minimizing bias, thus providing more reliable findings from which conclusions can be drawn and decisions made.” *

Features of a Systematic Review

  • Begins with a focused answerable clinical question (PICO framework)
  • Establishes pre-specified, explicit, and reproducible eligibility criteria
  • Uses comprehensive and exhaustive literature searches in multiple sources
  • Employs comprehensive analysis of quality and validity of findings
  • Reports collective interpretation of results
  • Requires 18 - 24 months to complete
  • Needs a team of experts - at least 3

Cochrane Reviews are Systematic Reviews that summarize evidence of effects of medical interventions. Cochrane reviews are guided by the Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions and are considered to be the gold standard for Systematic Reviews.

Things to consider

Is it Feasible?

  • Is the question appropriate for a systematic review?
  • What is the scope of the review?
  • What related reviews are already published?
  • How many citations do you expect to find?

Do have the necessary components?


  • TIME
  • DATA

source: Both, Su'on and Papaioannou 2016

There are many types of reviews of literature in addition to systematic reviews. Consider an alternative if:

  • You do not have a focused research question (PICOT)
  • Your time is limited - Systematic reviews generally take between 12 and 18 months to complete
  • You lack the manpower to complete a systematic review - typically 4 to 5 individuals contribute to a systematic review
  • Your topic is more exploratory in nature

Components of a Systematic Review







  • Selection criteria
  • Search Strategy
  • Data Collection
  • Data Analysis
  • Quality, risk of bias


  • Description of studies
  • Risk of bias
  • Effects of interventions


  • Summary of main findings
  • Quality of evidence
  • Potential bias


  • Implications for clinical practice
  • Implications for research




Systematic Review Workshop Series from UNC

The Introduction to Conducting a Systematic Review workshop, offered in October 2020, covered recommended standards, methods, and tools for completing a systematized, scoping, or systematic review at UNC. This workshop recording is available as a series of short videos on the process of conducting a review. It is recommended for those who have not yet conducted such a review, but are planning to do so. 

Related Guides

SR Toolbox

The Systematic Review Toolbox is an online catalogue of tools that support various tasks within the systematic review and wider evidence synthesis process.

In the Advanced Search, you can search by type of review (Systematic, Rapid, Scoping, etc.) or by stage of the review (Protocol development, Screening, Data extractions, etc.).