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Literature Reviews

Overview of a Literature Review

A literature review is a generic term used to describe pulling together information to answer a research question, then summarizing the findings.  There is more than one type of a literature review.  Depending on available time, resources, and support there may be a particular type of review to conduct.

Review types differ by

  • the goal of the review
  • the method of searching
  • if or how the articles are appraised
  • how information from various sources is synthesized
  • the analysis of the results
  • showing the current state of the literature around a particular topic

Various Review Types

Review Type Definition Searching Appraisal Synthesis Analysis
Literature or Narrative Review Generic term: published materials that provide examination of recent or current literature. Can cover wide range of subjects at various
levels of completeness and comprehensiveness. May include research findings
May or may not include comprehensive searching May or may not include quality assessment Typically narrative Analysis may be chronological, conceptual, thematic, etc.
Systematic Review Seeks to systematically search for, appraise, and synthesize research evidence, often adhering to guidelines on the conduct of a review Aims for exhaustive,
Quality assessment
may determine
Typically narrative
with tabular
What is known; recommendations
for practice. What remains unknown; uncertainty around
findings, recommendations for
future research
Mapping Review Review that examines a typically broad topic area with a view to identifying evidence gaps to be addressed by future primary research or systematic review(s), as yet unspecified Completeness of
searching determined
by time/scope
No formal quality
May be graphical
and tabular
Characterizes quantity and quality of literature, perhaps by study design and other key
features. May identify need for primary or secondary research
Scoping Review Review that seeks to explore and define conceptual and logistic boundaries around a particular topic with a view to inform a future predetermined systematic review or primary research Completeness of searching determined by time/scope
constraints. May include research in progress
No formal quality
Typically tabular
with some narrative
Characterizes quantity and quality of literature, perhaps by study
design and other key features. Attempts to specify a viable review
Umbrella Review Review that brings together multiple pre-existing reviews, all conducted using a shared methodology, facilitating comparison and analysis Identification of
component reviews, but no search for
primary studies
Quality assessment
of studies within
component reviews
and/or of reviews
Graphical and
tabular with narrative
What is known;
recommendations for practice. What remains unknown; recommendations for
future research
Meta-analysis Technique that statistically combines the results of quantitative studies to provide a more precise effect of the results Aims for exhaustive,
comprehensive searching.
May use funnel plot to assess completeness
Quality assessment may determine inclusion/
exclusion and/or
sensitivity analyses
Graphical and
tabular with
narrative commentary
Numerical analysis of measures of effect assuming absence of

Sutton, A., Clowes, M., Preston, L., & Booth, A. (2019). Meeting the review family: exploring review types and associated information retrieval requirements. Health Information & Libraries Journal, 36(3), 202–222.

Grant, M. J. and Booth, A. (2009), A typology of reviews: an analysis of 14 review types and associated methodologies. Health Information & Libraries Journal, 26: 91–108. doi:10.1111/j.1471-1842.2009.00848.x

Library Support

Whichever review type you decide to conduct, the A.T. Still Memorial Librarians are happy to assist you throughout the process.

Librarians can assist you with:

  • Selecting a review type
  • Educating you and your team on different review types
  • Education on required elements of the review
  • Providing resources to assist throughout the process
  • Putting together a search strategy
  • Selecting resources to search
  • Organizing search results