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Systematic Reviews

Is a Systematic Review Appropriate?

In general, systematic reviews answer narrow research questions about interventions in health or social sciences, analyze the quality of retrieved studies, and take 12 - 24 months. Not all research questions are suited to a systemic review; a scoping review or other type of evidence synthesis may be more appropriate. However, keep in mind that the term "systematic review" is used very loosely. When conducting a systematic review, consult your target journal or conference to determine the amount of rigor required and guidelines/protocols recommended by that publication or venue.

The resources below can help you decide whether a systematic review is right for your study.

Systematic Versus Scoping Reviews

Systematic and scoping reviews can be difficult to distinguish. Although they share some characteristics, the reviews answer different types of research questions and synthesize the data in different ways. Consider these characteristics of the two review types to help you decide which is appropriate for your project. Also, see below articles that describe the process of each.

Keep in mind that journals have different standards for systematic reviews. If you know where you want to publish, look at systematic reviews in that journal to see what the editors and peer reviewers expect.

Systematic review:

  • A narrow research question asking about the efficacy, accuracy, or cost-effectiveness of an intervention
  • The intervention is usually compared to a control or an alternative intervention
  • The quality of studies is analyzed during the synthesis

Scoping review:

  • A broader research question, usually answered by themes drawn from the literature
  • Describes concepts, definitions, available research, and gaps in knowledge of a research area
  • Often reported in a table format 
  • The quality of studies may not be analyzed

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Copyright © University of North Texas. Some rights reserved. Except where otherwise indicated, the content of this library guide is made available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0) license. Suggested citation for citing this guide when adapting it:

This work is a derivative of "Systematic Reviews", created by [author name if apparent] and © University of North Texas, used under CC BY-NC 4.0 International.

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