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Systematic Reviews - Social Sciences

Synthesizing reviews

There are numerous types of synthesizing reviews. Authors, Sutton, Clowes, Preson, and Booth, in their 2019 article identifed and categorized 48 review types. See article link on this page. Determining which type of review to use depends on the research goals or objectives, time constraints, and available published research literature.  Each review type has strengths and limitations.

Quick definitions

A broad term referring to reviews with a wide scope and non-standardized methodology.

  • Search strategies, comprehensiveness, and time range covered vary and do not follow an established protocol.
  • Can be completed by one person. 
  • Analysis may be chronological, thematic, etc.

A methodical and comprehensive literature synthesis focused on a well-formulated research question.

• Aims to identify and synthesize all of the scholarly research on a particular topic, including both published and unpublished studies.

• Conducted in an unbiased, reproducible way (transparent) to provide evidence for practice and policy-making and to identify gaps in research.

• May involve a meta-analysis.

A statistical technique for combining the findings of quantitative studies to provide a more precise effect of the results.  

• Uses statistical methods to objectively evaluate, synthesize, and summarize results.

• May be conducted independently or as part of a systematic review.

Preliminary assessment of potential size and scope of available research literature. 

  • Seeks to identify research gaps and opportunities for evidence synthesis.
  • May critically evaluate existing evidence, but does not attempt to synthesize the results in the way a systematic review would.
  • May take longer than a systematic review.

Applies systematic review methodology within a time-constrained setting. 

  • Employs methodological “shortcuts” (limiting search terms for example) at the risk of introducing bias.
  • Useful for addressing issues needing quick decisions.
  • Assessment of what is already known. 

Reviews other systematic reviews on a topic.

• Often defines a broader question than is typical of a traditional systematic review.

• Most useful when there are competing interventions to consider.

Definitions collected from:

Grant, M. J., & Booth, A. (2009). A typology of reviews: an analysis of 14 review types and associated methodologies. Health information and libraries journal26(2), 91–108.

Sutton, A., Clowes, M., Preston, L., & Booth, A. (2019). Meeting the review family: exploring review types and associated information retrieval requirements. Health information and libraries journal36(3), 202–222.