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Systematic Reviews

How to write and find systematic reviews

Types of Reviews

Literature Review:

  • Summarizes a topic that is broad in scope (ex. cancer treatment)
  • Qualitative
  • May use sources that are biased
  • Does not define what types of studies will  be included (looks at everything)

Systematic Review:

  • Answers a specific clinical question (ex. PICO) (ex. Is  Vitamin C or chemotherapy a better cancer treatment in patients over the age of 40?)
  • Defines a specific search strategy; lists what will  be included and excluded in articles selected
  • Can include a meta-analysis within the review (not not necessary)


  • Looks at studies from a systematic review
  • Purpose is to combine similar studies and pull data to get a statistically significant result
  • Important because statistical analysis may overturn results of smaller clinical trials

Remember, a literature review provides an overview of a topic. There may or may not be a method for how studies are collected or interpreted. Lit reviews aren't always obviously labeled "literature review"; they may be embedded within sections such as the introduction or background. You can figure this out by reading the article. 

Systematic reviews address a clinical question.  Reviews are gathered using a specific, defined set of criteria.


  • Selection criteria is defined
  • The words "Systematic Review" may appear int he title or abstract