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Systematic Style Reviews: Types of reviews

Review type Description &
purpose
Literature search Quality appraisal Analysis methods Recommended timeframe* Reviewers required Limitations

Systematic 

Comprehensive evidence synthesis, considered the gold standard review with a focus on high level evidence (often randomised controlled trials, but this depends on the question type).

May be useful for clinical decision-making, determining best practice

The Cochrane Collaboration is considered the eminent organisation for systematic reviews.

Note: not all systematic reviews include meta-analyses

Comprehensive Included - this may determine inclusion/exclusion What is known: recommendations for practice or what remains unknown: uncertainty around findings, recommendations for future research 9-12+ months at least 2

Narrow scope of question limits insights on broader topic.

 

Scoping

Exploratory review.

May assist with determining areas for new research or the usefulness of a future systematic review

Completeness determined by time/scope restraints No formal quality assessment Characterises quantity and quality of literature perhaps by study design and other key features 6-12+ months at least 2

Difficulty in establishing boundaries due to wide scope.

Difficult to interpret results due to lack of quality assessment.

Does not synthesise results.

Rapid

Rapid evidence synthesis.

May assist with determining best practice.

Comprehensive

Completeness determined by time/scope restraints?

Included - this may determine inclusion/exclusion What is known: recommendations for practice or what remains unknown: uncertainty around findings, recommendations for future research 1 - 6 months at least 1

Search not as comprehensive.

Limited time frame may introduce bias.

Only one reviewer may cause possible non-blinded appraisal and selection.

Omitting components of the review process may cause limitations and potential biases.

Interpretation of the findings may be limited or cautious.

Integrative

Aggregates and evaluates both experimental and non-experimental data to determine best practice.

May assist where diverse methodologies are required to answer a question, or where empirical evidence may not exist.

Comprehensive Included - this may determine inclusion/exclusion What is known: recommendations for practice or what remains unknown: uncertainty around findings, recommendations for future research 12+ months at least 2-3  

Umbrella

Systematic review of other systematic reviews

Usually used for best practice for treatment.

  Included - this may determine inclusion/exclusion What is known: recommendations for practice or what remains unknown: uncertainty around findings, recommendations for future research 9-12+ months at least 2

Must include the re-synthesis of data.

Only includes systematic reviews and meta-analyses, does not include other study types.

Requires a systematic review expert to critically appraise systematic reviews.

Meta-analysis

Strictly speaking not a review, but is usually developed from or within a systematic review.

Determines the effectiveness of interventions by applying statistical analysis to the combined results of individual studies.

Comprehensive Included - this may determine inclusion/exclusion What is known: recommendations for practice or what remains unknown: uncertainty around findings, recommendations for future research 12 - 24 months at least 2-3

Requires specialist statistical expertise and software.

Assumes that all interventions  are equally applicable to all populations and contexts of the studies included.

May introduce study selection bias.

 

Meta-synthesis

An interpretive synthesis of qualitative data which provides new insights into the research. Comprehensive Included - this may determine inclusion/exclusion What is known: recommendations for practice or what remains unknown: uncertainty around findings, recommendations for future research NA NA

Only appropriate for high-quality qualitative studies

Selection of review type may not be possible until studies selected. 

Requires significant methodological skill and experience with qualitative methods.

May take time to engage with the evidence and develop theory.

Requires further interpretation by policy makers and practitioners.

Traditional / Narrative

Increase self-knowledge of an area, provide a broad overview or identify gaps in the literature.

May be used as background for research.

May or may not be comprehensive May or may not include May be chronological, conceptual, thematic etc. 1 week - 1 month 1

No data about author's purpose or agenda.

No explicit analysis of data.

Possible study selection bias.

*timeframe may vary from this guide, depending on the number of eligible articles included in the review and other demands on the reviewers' time.

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