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Literature reviews and systematic reviews

Are you doing a full systematic review or a literature review?

Before starting your literature search, you need to be clear what you are being asked to do. Systematic reviews are carried out by PhD students and research-active staff. Undergraduates and Masters students may be asked to carry out a literature review using systematic review techniques - this will not be a full systematic review.

Below you will find descriptions of both review types.

 

Literature reviews

Systematic reviews for PhD students and researchers

 

PCs

Literature reviews 

Literature reviews are often required by undergraduate and taught postgraduate modules. You can do a comprehensive literature review or an advanced literature review or a literature search using systematic techniques using databases like Medline and CINAHL. This type of literature review needs to demonstrate that you have used appropriate search terms, and will include the structure of your search history - how and where you have searched. However, this kind of literature review differs from a systematic review in the following ways:

  • It does not aim to find ALL relevant published and unpublished evidence on the specific review topic.
  • It will not follow the rigorous processes of a systematic review, although it may be a carefully planned and comprehensive review.

PhD students may undertake a literature review or a systematic review as part of their studies. See the section below for more information on systematic reviews.

Systematic reviews for PhD students and research staff

"Systematic reviews aim to identify, evaluate and summarise the findings of all relevant individual studies. They adhere to a strict scientific design based on explicit, pre-specified and reproducible methods." (Centre for Reviews and Dissemination 2008, p5.)

"SLRs (systematic literature reviews) by their very definition differ from traditional literature reviews: their scope is to address a highly specific research question (e.g., 'what works' or 'what works best') for which evidence from the literature is sought. SLRs thus do not aim to provide what traditional literature reviews do: an assessment of a state of knowledge in a problem domain and identification of weaknesses and needs for further research." (Boell and Cecez-Kecmanovic 2015)

Systematic reviews follow an explicit protocol to identify ALL the available evidence on a particular research question. They are complex, high quality and rigorous reviews, which aim to:

  • Identify all relevant published and unpublished evidence on the specified review topic;
  • assess the quality of studies and select for inclusion;
  • Synthesise the findings from all of the studies in an unbiased way, in order to present a balanced summary of the findings;
  •  can take 18 months or longer to complete; and 
  • are usually carried out by three or more researchers or a research team.

University of Bradford library offers a systematic reviews advisory service for PhD students, staff and researchers undertaking full systematic review. 

References

Boell SK and Cecez-Kecmanovic D (2015) On being 'systematic' in literature reviews in IS. Journal of Information Technology. 30(2): 161-173.

Centre for Reviews and Dissemination (2009) Systematic Reviews: CRD's guidance for undertaking reviews in Healthcarehttps://www.york.ac.uk/media/crd/Systematic_Reviews.pdf. Accessed 14 Aug 2019.

Systematic reviews v literature reviews

Library support for systematic reviews and literature reviews

Library workshops for researchers

The Library regularly runs workshops on Advanced literature searching, Critical Appraisal, An Introduction to Systematic Reviews and EndNote (referencing management software). These workshops are aimed at PhD students, staff and researchers. The Library's workshop programme is available online.

You can also come along to a library skills workshop on referencing or EndNote.

Advanced literature reviews 1:1 support

Your subject librarian can advise on where and how to search for information, and how to manage your search results using referencing software. Please contact your subject librarian to get support by email or book a 30-minute appointment slot online.

Systematic reviews advisory service

University of Bradford Library do not offer  a dedicated systematic review support service. We are unable to conduct systematic reviews on behalf of students, staff or research groups.

However, we do off an advisory service for systematic reviews, which provides feedback and guidance on all stages of a systematic review (highlighted in orange in the adjacent chart). This includes scoping search, carrying out a literature search, full-text retrieval, additional searching - such as grey literature, updating searches and transferring them to different databases. 

The Library also offers support on reference management. Please email lib-research@bradford.ac.uk to get support by email or to arrange a 1:1 appointment.

Systematic reviews flowchart

Getting started with your systematic review

Come along to an Introduction to Systematic Reviews Workshop.

Useful links

University of Bradford reading list for systematic reviews.

The Centre for Reviews and Dissemination at the University of York have a detailed guide to undertaking systematic reviews.

CASP checklists are critical appraisal tools designed to be used when reading research, and include tools for systematic reviews.

King's College London offer a detailed online guide on systematic reviews.