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ENG599 Research Skills Guide: Types of Reviews

This guide is designed to support students completing ENG599

What's the difference between reviews?

Researchers, academics and librarians all use various terms to describe different types of literature reviews. Indeed there is often confusion between the ways the types are described. The table below has been adapted from a widely used typology of fourteen types of reviews, but here we describe four of the most common types:

Systematic review Seeks to systematically search for, appraise and synthesise research evidence in order to aid decision-making and determine best practice. Systematic reviews can vary in their approach, and are often specific to the type of study: studies of effectiveness, qualitative research, economic evaluation, prevalence, aetiology or risk, diagnostic test accuracy and so on. 8 months to 2 years 2 or more
Rapid review Assesses what is known about an issue by using a systematic review method to search and appraise research and determine best practice. 2-6 months 2
Scoping review Assesses the potential scope of the research literature on a particular topic. Helps determine gaps in the research. 2-8 weeks 1-2
Traditional (narrative) literature review A generic review which identifies and reviews published literature on a topic, which may be broad. Typically employs a narrative approach to reporting the review findings. Can include a wide range of related subjects. 1-4 weeks 1
Critical review Aims to demonstrate writer has extensively researched literature and critically evaluated its quality. Goes beyond mere description to include degree of analysis and conceptual innovation. Typically results in hypothesis or model. 2-8 weeks 1
Umbrella review

Specifically refers to review compiling evidence from multiple reviews into one accessible and usable document. Focuses on broad condition or problem for which there are competing interventions and highlights reviews that address these interventions and their results.

The study typically (but not only) appraises systematic reviews and aims at informing on a specific clinical condition or topic.

2-6 months 2 or more
Meta-analysis Technique that statistically combines the results of quantitative studies to provide a more precise effect of the results 8 months to 2 years 2 or more

For a more detailed list of review types, see:

Grant, M.J. & Booth, A. (2009).  A typology of reviews: An analysis of 14 review types and associated methodologies. Health Information & Libraries Journal, 26(2), 91-108.  DOI: 10.1111/j.1471-1842.2009.00848.x

See also our Library Resource Guide, Literature Review.


Systematic review

Schön, E.-M., Thomaschewski, J., & Escalona, M. J. (2017). Agile Requirements Engineering: A systematic literature review. Computer Standards & Interfaces, 49, 79-91. doi:

Rapid review

Van Eerd, D. (2019). Knowledge transfer and exchange in health and safety: A rapid review. Policy and Practice in Health and Safety, 17(1), 54-77. doi:10.1080/14773996.2018.1508116

Scoping review

Marshall, R. E., Levison, J. K., McBean, E. A., Brown, E., & Harper, S. L. (2018). Source water protection programs and Indigenous communities in Canada and the United States: A scoping review. Journal of Hydrology, 562, 358-370. doi:10.1016/j.jhydrol.2018.04.070

Traditional (narrative) literature review

Schwebel, F. J., & Larimer, M. E. (2018). Using text message reminders in health care services: A narrative literature review. Internet Interventions, 13, 82-104. doi:10.1016/j.invent.2018.06.002

Critical review

Tran, H. N., You, S.-J., Hosseini-Bandegharaei, A., & Chao, H.-P. (2017). Mistakes and inconsistencies regarding adsorption of contaminants from aqueous solutions: A critical review. Water research, 120, 88-116. doi:10.1016/j.watres.2017.04.014

Umbrella review

Thomson, K., Hillier-Brown, F., Todd, A., McNamara, C., Huijts, T., & Bambra, C. (2018). The effects of public health policies on health inequalities in high-income countries: An umbrella review. BMC Public Health, 18(1), 869. doi:10.1186/s12889-018-5677-1


Bourdon, A., Grandy, S. A., & Keats, M. R. (2018). Aerobic exercise and cardiopulmonary fitness in childhood cancer survivors treated with a cardiotoxic agent: A meta-analysis. Supportive Care in Cancer, 26(7), 2113-2123. doi:10.1007/s00520-018-4208-z

Take our quick quiz to guide you to the best review for you

With thanks and acknowledgements to Deakin University Library.

Charles Sturt University acknowledges the traditional custodians of the lands on which its campuses are located, paying respect to Elders, both past and present, and extend that respect to all First Nations Peoples.

Charles Sturt University is an Australian University, TEQSA Provider Identification: PRV12018. CRICOS Provider: 00005F.