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Literature Reviews: Systematic, Scoping, Integrative

Characteristics of Review Types

  Systematic Reviews Scoping Reviews Integrative Reviews

Gather and synthesize homogenous studies in order to provide a single  summary of available evidence, frequently to answer a clinical question.

Review existing literature on a topic, generally conducted when literature is diverse in type (heterogenous) or in its nascency when more specific questions are unanswerable. Gather and synthesize both empirical and theoretical evidence relevant to a clearly defined problem.
Research Question Very specific, frequently 
following a framework 
(e.g. PICO)

Generally broad

More important to have a stated problem. It is not always in the form of a question.

Literature Types 
Defined study types, ideally homogenous in design All types, depending
on the research
Empirical and theoretical literature
Quality Assessment Strongly encouraged Optional, depends on review objectives Recommended
Data Extraction

Outcomes must be extracted. Other data items will vary depending on review objectives but often contain details about the research design and/or methods.

Data items will vary depending on review objectives. Data items will vary depending on review objectives


Choosing a Review Type

Not sure which review type is right for your research question? Check out the links below for help choosing.

Steps in a Systematic/Scoping/Integrative Review

Creating an effective search for a systematic review means walking a tightrope between comprehensiveness and managability. You want to try to include all of the studies that could possibly be relevant while simultaneously getting your search results down to a number of articles that you can realistically review. 

The Basic Process:

  1. Develop a research question.
  2. Search databases to see if a review has already been published on your topic. 
  3. Select the type of review (systematic, scoping, integrative)
  4. Select databases.
  5. Select grey literature sources (if applicable). Read this article for helpful suggestions on systematically searching for grey literature.
  6. Formulate an initial search for one of your selected databases. For tips on searching, consult our Mastering Keyword Searching guide.
  7. Review results from initial search, scanning titles, abstracts, and subject headings to identify additional terms.
  8. Run the search again, and continue to add and subtract terms until your results are a reasonable size and predominantly relevant to your question.
  9. When you think your search is nearly final, gather 2-3 of your most relevant articles and test their reference lists against your search results. If your search contains most of the relevant articles from those reference lists, your have your final search (remember no search is ever perfect, and you will nearly always add articles you find via reference lists, recommendations, etc. that did not appear in your search results). 
  10. Translate your search to your other databases. Generally your keywords will stay the same across databases, but you will most likely need to adjust your subject headings, because those can vary from database to database.
  11. Ask a librarian to peer review your search. Try the PRESS checklist
  12. Develop inclusion and exclusion criteria in preparation for reviewing articles (this step may come later for a scoping review)
  13. Write a protocol.
  14. Run the final searches and record the following:
    1. Database name (be as specific as possible, including the full title, especially for databases that are offered in multiple formats, e.g. Ovid Medline) and dates of coverage.
    2. Search terms, including indicating which are subject headings and which are keywords plus any limitations to where the keywords were search if relevant.
    3. Database limits/filters applied to the results (e.g. publication year, language, etc.).
    4. Date of your search.
    5. Number of results.
  15. Begin title/abstract screening. Two reviewers for each item is best practice.
  16. Begin full-text review of the articles still remaining. Again, two reviewers for each item is best practice. 
  17. Conduct citation mining for the articles that make it through full-text review. That means looking at reference lists (backwards searching) and searching for articles that cite back to the article you have (forward searching). You might also consider setting aside all of the systematic and scoping reviews that came up with your search (generally those are excluded from your review) and mining their reference lists as well. Repeat the title/abstract screening and full-text reviews for the articles identified through citation mining.
  18. Check all articles that made it through the full-text review for retractions, and remove any articles that have been retracted. 
  19. If doing a systematic review, conduct a critical appraisal of included articles (aka Risk of Bias Assessment).
  20. Begin data extraction.
  21. Begin data synthesis.
  22. Prepare your manuscript.


Confirming the Knowledge Gap

Before beginning your review, you need to be sure that no other reviews with the same research question as yours already exist or are in progress. This is easily done by searching research databases and protocol registries.

Databases to Check

Protocol Registries

Standards and Reporting Guidelines

It is a good idea to familiarize yourself with the standards and reporting guidelines for the type of review you are planning to do. Following the standards/guidelines as you plan and execute your review will help ensure that you minimize bias and maximize your chances of getting published.

Systematic Reviews

Scoping Reviews

Integrative Reviews