When researching a dissertation, final project or research project you may need to conduct either a literature or systematic review.

The Library and Student Learning Advisory Service (SLAS) can help you with this.

Before you start on this process it is useful to clarify the difference as the two can sometime be confused:

 Table from Systematic Review Guide(2022) Imperial College London Library Services [Accessed Aug 2022] 

A literature review provides a summary of the literature on a particular topic and is often used as background and context to your own experiment. It is down to the researcher to set the parameters for the search based on relevance to the area of research. This type of review does not need to exhaustive but you should be able to describes your search process in the write up.

A systematic review, however, is a comprehensive literature review conducted to answer a specific research question. Authors of a systematic review aim to find, code, appraise, and synthesize all of the previous research on their question in an unbiased and well-documented manner.  To do this they will follow a strict set of steps to ensure a ‘systematic ‘ process.

There are a number of bodies that have guidelines for example, PRISMA has a minimum set of items for reporting in systematic reviews and meta-analyses.

Meta-analysis is the statistical combination of results from two or more studies. It allows researchers to combine the data from studies with similar data types and analyze them as a single, expanded dataset. Meta-analyses are a type of systematic review.

Helpful resources:

To help with conducting systematic reviews look at Cochrane’s Interactive Learning. It is a modular programme that provides detailed instruction on the best practice in conducting and reporting systematic reviews including data extraction. Note that the first time you use the resource you will need to register using your Kent email – you will then be sent a confirmation email link to activate your account.

This Systematic Review Flowchart produced by Imperial College Library Services Provides a useful step-by-step guide to the entire process and activites you need to consider along the way.

Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (CDSR)
CDSR is part of the Cochrane Library. It contains Cochrane Reviews which are peer-reviewed systematic reviews that have been prepared and supervised by a Cochrane Review Group according to the principles laid out in the Cochrane Handbook of Systematic Reviews of Interventions.

International prospective register of systematic reviews (PROSPERO)
PROSPERO is produced by the CRD (Centre for Reviews and Dissemination – University of York). The register is useful for highlighting prospective systematic reviews and enables comparison of reported review findings with the original protocol.

We can help you to develop your search skills to carry out either a literature or systematic review.  Use the links on the right to access our Library Research Skill module on Moodle or book an appointment with me for a chat.