Systematic Review and Literature Review: Differences & Impact on Academic Research

In the vast world of academic research, two types of reviews often come into play: systematic review vs literature review. But what differentiates one from the other? As researchers, it’s crucial to understand these distinctions to ensure the right approach for each study.

Systematic Reviews vs Literature Reviews

What Is a Systematic Review?

A systematic review represents a high level of academic research. Such high-quality research requires a set, unambiguous, and replicable methodology. This entails a comprehensive search of all potentially relevant studies, followed by a critical appraisal of the identified research. Systematic reviews often, but not always, include a meta-analysis, which is a statistical method to combine results from multiple studies addressing the same question.

For example, imagine a swarm of researchers investigating various educational interventions to improve math scores among elementary school children. Each study in the swarm might review a different intervention, using different methodology, resulting in disparate findings. A systematic review would identify all these individual studies, critically evaluate them, and then integrate the findings to give a complete picture of what works best.

What Is a Literature Review?

Alternatively, a literature review, integral to many academic papers, encompasses a broad overview of the existing body of knowledge on a particular topic. Unlike a systematic review, it does not always follow strict protocols or conduct an in-depth analysis of study quality.

In a literature review, a researcher might survey and synthesize several sources on a topic, whether these sources agree or contradict each other. For instance, a literature review on climate change might explore various dimensions of the subject, such as causes, scientific consensus, policy initiatives, and mitigation strategies, regardless of whether the sources of this information are in harmony.

Key Differences Between Systematic Review and Literature Review

Objectives and Questions

An essential variance between systematic reviews and literature reviews becomes evident in their objectives and questions they aim to answer. Systematic reviews aim to respond to specific research questions, employing a rigid research design, affording conclusive evidence. For instance, a systematic review might focus on the question, “What is the effectiveness of a ketogenic diet in weight loss among adults over 40?”. On the contrary, literature reviews provide a broader overview of a topic without aiming to answer a distinct research question or produce conclusive evidence.

Methodology and Process

The second key differentiation comes in the methodology and process used. Systematic reviews utilize an explicit, predefined protocol with a predetermined objective, minimizing bias. Specific inclusion and exclusion criteria for studies are set before the review starts, and the process is highly structured. For example, a systematic review may only include randomized controlled trials or studies published within the last five years. However, literature reviews lack this rigorous methodology and process.

Sources and Search Strategy

Thirdly, differences exist in the sources and search strategy employed. Systematic reviews follow meticulous and reproducible literature search strategies, capturing a vast range of relevant sources, hence reducing the risk of publication bias.

They might search databases like PubMed, Embase, and Cochrane, using a well-structured search string. Conversely, literature reviews use a more flexible and less comprehensive search strategy.

Analysis and Synthesis

Lastly, the way the sourced material is analyzed and synthesized diverges. Systematic reviews carry out a comprehensive, often statistical synthesis of the data from included studies. They might use a meta-analysis to combine numerical findings from similar studies, providing a robust answer to a given research question. However, literature reviews offer a narrative, not quantitative, synthesis, summarizing trends and findings from the reviewed sources without a statistical amalgamation of data.

What You Need To Know

Understanding the differences between systematic reviews vs literature reviews is crucial in academic research. It’s clear that systematic reviews, with their rigorous methodology and goal of providing conclusive evidence, are vital for evidence-based practices. They’re especially useful in fields like medical research, where they can directly influence clinical decisions and patient outcomes.