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Systematic Review vs Literature Review

It is quite common to confuse between a systematic review and a literature review because both are types of evidence synthesis in research. This article aims to elucidate what is a systematic review vs literature review. To facilitate comprehension, a comprehensive definition of each review type will be provided, followed by a succinct summary encapsulated in a tabular format.

I. What is a Systematic Review?

A systematic review is a meticulous and structured synthesis of existing literature that employs explicit and reproducible methods to identify, select, and critically appraise relevant research studies. The overarching objective is to provide a comprehensive and unbiased summary of the current evidence pertaining to a specific research question or topic. Systematic reviews often involve a systematic search strategy, inclusion and exclusion criteria, and a rigorous evaluation of study quality, thus contributing to the establishment of evidence-based practice.

II. What is a Literature Review?

In contrast, a literature review is a more expansive exploration and synthesis of published material encompassing a particular subject or field. While it lacks the stringent methodology of a systematic review, a literature review offers a broader perspective, examining the evolution of ideas, theories, and research across various sources. Its primary goal is to present a holistic overview of the existing literature on a chosen topic, facilitating a nuanced understanding of the subject’s historical context, theoretical foundations, and current state of knowledge.

III. Systematic Review vs. Literature Review Summary

Aspect Systematic Review Literature Review
Methodology Rigorous and explicit methods, including systematic search, inclusion/exclusion criteria, and quality appraisal. Less structured methodology, often involving a narrative synthesis of diverse sources.
Objective To answer a specific research question by synthesizing and evaluating existing evidence. To provide a comprehensive overview of existing literature on a particular topic without a specific research question.
Scope Narrow focus on a specific research question or topic. Broader exploration of a subject, encompassing historical context, theoretical foundations, and current knowledge.
Inclusion Criteria Stringent criteria for study inclusion, emphasizing relevance and quality. Inclusion of a variety of sources, focusing on relevance to the broader topic.
Evidence Synthesis Systematic synthesis of evidence, often through meta-analysis if applicable. Narrative synthesis, highlighting themes, trends, and gaps in the literature.
Structure Typically follows a defined structure, including introduction, methods, results, discussion, and conclusion sections. Structure is more flexible, with variations based on the nature and purpose of the review.
Timeline Generally requires a longer timeline due to the thoroughness of the systematic search and review process. Potentially shorter timeline, as it may involve a more selective and focused examination of the literature.
Number of Authors May involve multiple authors, each contributing to different stages of the review process. Often executed by a single author or a smaller team, given its more narrative and exploratory nature.
Requirement Often mandated for evidence-based practice, clinical guidelines, or policy recommendations. Commonly part of academic assignments, research proposals, or as a preliminary step in research projects.
Practical Application Directly applicable to informing evidence-based decision-making in various professional fields. Valuable for gaining a comprehensive understanding of a topic, influencing research direction, or framing the context for further inquiry.

IV. Conclusion

In conclusion, while both systematic and literature reviews serve crucial roles in academic inquiry, their distinctive methodologies, objectives, and scopes set them apart. A systematic review prioritizes precision and objectivity in addressing specific research questions, whereas a literature review offers a more expansive exploration of a subject’s broader context. This systematic review vs literature review analysis aims to elucidate these differences, aiding scholars and researchers in selecting the most appropriate review approach based on their research goals.


  1. Living systematic review: 1. Introduction—the why, what, when, and how

  2. Approaching literature review for academic purposes: The Literature Review Checklist

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