Module 1: Types of Reviews

Literature vs Systematic Reviews

Both literature and systematic reviews are aimed at assembling, critically evaluating and reviewing existing research on a central topic or research question. Some differences between them include the method for determining what research to include or exclude, the extent or scope of the review, and the duration of time required to complete the process. To help you determine which review is most appropriate, please see Table 1.1 below for a detailed explanation of each as well as the differences between each type of review.

Table 1.1. Difference Between Systematic and Literature Reviews
Component Literature Review Systematic reviews
Definition A literature review is a qualitative integrative summary of published research on a specific topic. The literature review seeks to synthesize what is already known about the topic, and sometimes, explicitly state what is not known, or not well understood. Systematic reviews bring together information from a range of sources to answer a specific research question. They differ from a traditional literature review or narrative review, in that they aim to synthesize and analyze the research in an unbiased, rigorous and systematic way so that it can be used to support evidence-based practice.
  • Provide summary or overview of topic
  • Answers a focused question
  • Eliminate bias
  • Can be a general topic or a specific question
  • Clearly defined and answerable clinical question
  • Recommend using a formula like PICO(T)  as a guide
  • Introduction
  • Methods
  • Discussion
  • Conclusion
  • Reference list


  • Literature review section within a research article (*See note below table)
  • Pre-specified eligibility criteria
  • Systematic search strategy
  • Assessment of the validity of finding
  • Interpretation and presentation of results
  • Reference list
Number of Authors
  • One or more
  • Three or more
  • Weeks to months
  • Months to years
  • Understanding of topic
  • Perform searches through databases and other resources
  • Thorough knowledge of topic
  • Perform searches of all relevant databases
  • Statistical analysis resources (for meta-analysis)
  • Provides summary of literature on the topic
  • Connects practicing clinicians to high quality evidence
  • Supports evidence-based practice

Adapted from Kysh, Lynn (2013): Difference between a systematic review and a literature review. Figshare (Poster), Licensed under Creative Commons CC BY 4.0 /order and some words changed.

Note on Table 1.1.

There are two ways to present a literature review: it can be one section in an original study, or it can be a standalone full review. More examples are given in the section on Literature Reviews.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Advanced Research Skills: Conducting Literature and Systematic Reviews Copyright © 2021 by Kelly Dermody; Cecile Farnum; Daniel Jakubek; Jo-Anne Petropoulos; Jane Schmidt; and Reece Steinberg is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book