If you’ve been reading research papers, chances are you’ve come across two commonly used approaches to synthesizing existing knowledge: systematic reviews and literature reviews. Although they share similarities, it’s important to understand their differences to help you choose the most appropriate method for your research needs.
In this blog post, we’ll outline the key distinctions between systematic reviews and literature reviews, so that you can make an informed decision about which approach to include in your research plan. Let’s begin!
In contrast, systematic reviews follow a more structured and replicable process. After your key research question has been fully developed, it can often be helpful to follow an analytic framework to guide your research. Extensive literature searches across multiple databases are conducted using predefined search terms and strict inclusion and exclusion criteria. Researchers critically assess the quality of research and risk of bias in each study, systematically extract and analyze the data, and may employ statistical methods, such as meta-analysis, to synthesize the findings.
Outcomes and Findings
The outcomes of literature reviews primarily include a summary of the existing literature, key findings, useful methodologies, and identified research gaps. These reviews provide a broad understanding of the current state of knowledge in a particular area and can help researchers identify directions for future studies. Literature reviews aim to describe and analyze the existing research rather than providing definitive conclusions or making recommendations.
Systematic reviews, however, produce more conclusive results. They statistically analyze the data from selected studies, often incorporating meta-analysis, in order to answer the key research question. Systematic review findings often include a summary of findings table to communicate the main outcomes as well as information about the materials that were covered in the review.
Applicability and Utility
Due to their broad nature, literature reviews are useful for researchers looking to gain an overview of a specific field or topic. They provide a foundation for understanding existing knowledge, identifying gaps, and generating research questions. Literature reviews tend to be used in the early stages of research projects or when developing theoretical frameworks for a thesis or dissertation.
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With their rigorous methodology, systematic reviews are valuable for informing evidence-based practice and decision-making. They can be used as stand-alone scientific publications to illustrate the current state of scientific evidence, set a research agenda, or inform policy-making.
If you’re trying to decide whether a systematic review or literature review is the best approach for your project, consider the main distinctions:
1. Literature reviews offer a broad overview of the existing literature and identify research gaps, while systematic reviews focus on answering a specific research question.
2. Literature reviews commonly adopt a flexible and iterative approach, while systematic reviews use a structured and rigorous approach.
3. Literature reviews identify key findings, useful methodologies, and identified research gaps. Systematic reviews, on the other hand, produce conclusive results to answer the key research question.
4. Literature reviews are often carried out early on in a thesis or dissertation to identify existing research gaps, whereas systematic reviews can stand on their own as a conclusive analysis.
Once you understand these differences, you’re ready to choose the best approach for your own research paper.