Systematic & literature reviews

There are different methods of reviewing existing research and literature, and different definitions of systematic and literature reviews, with some variations between disciplines.

  • Broadly speaking, systematic reviews seek to answer a specific question by identifying all available evidence through systematic, reproducible searches, and appraising, analysing and synthesising the results. Systematic reviews are most common in health and related fields, but are also used in other disciplines, including psychology, education and management.
  • More traditional literature reviews (sometimes also referred to as narrative reviews) are an integral element of most research projects in all disciplines, and are generally more selective in nature, depending on the scope of the research project. They may focus on a broader topic, rather than a specific question. Literature or narrative reviews may be conducted in a systematic way, but this is not the same as a systematic review.

(Compiled from various sources in SAGE Research Methods)

For more information on types of review, see
Sutton, Anthea, Clowes, Mark, Preston, Louise, & Booth, Andrew. (2019). Meeting the review family: Exploring review types and associated information retrieval requirements. Health Information and Libraries Journal, 36(3), 202-222. DOI: 10.1111/hir.12276.

Guidance & resources

Databases for your review

Multidisciplinary citation databases:

To find discipline specific databases, use the Library subject guides.

Accessing papers, articles and other materials for your review
If the materials you need are not available in the University Library collections via StarPlus, you may be able to source open access copies. Alternatively, please use the Online InterLibrary request form.

Systematic reviews
This series of short videos, produced by specialist librarians, explains aspects of systematic review methodology, including the search strategy, literature search tools, recording searches and managing search results.

Producing a literature review
We have created a step-by-step online guide.

PRISMA
Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses. PRISMA is an evidence-based minimum set of items for reporting in systematic reviews and meta-analyses. PRISMA focuses on the reporting of reviews evaluating randomized trials, but can also be used as a basis for reporting systematic reviews of other types of research, particularly evaluations of interventions.

SAGE Research Methods
SAGE Research Methods is an online collection of books and other materials relating to research methods across a range of disciplines, including systematic and literature reviews. The collection also provides a number of research tools, including a Methods Map and a Project Planner.

Support for researchers

Specialist librarians are available to work with researchers and research teams to:

  • Advise on appropriate databases for your review
  • Review and advise on search strategies
  • Advise on the use of reference management software for your review
  • Develop bespoke training sessions for your research team

Contact the librarian for your department for more information.

In some circumstances, the Library may be able to conduct mediated literature searches or scoping searches to support research bids and projects. Please complete the Literature Search request form for further information.