Systematic Review vs. Literature Review
  • 4-minute read
  • 28th October 2023

Systematic Review vs. Literature Review

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!

Objective and Purpose

The primary objective of a literature review is to provide an overview and summary of the existing literature on a specific topic to set the stage for your own critical evaluation. A literature review aims to identify key concepts, theories, and research findings, as well as gaps in knowledge, to establish a foundation for further studies.

On the other hand, systematic reviews have a more focused purpose. They aim to address a particular research question using a predefined methodology and criteria for study selection. Systematic reviews seek to provide a comprehensive and objective summary of the available evidence in order to draw significant conclusions.

Methodology and Process

Literature reviews often adopt a flexible and iterative approach. They utilize the analysis, evaluation, and summarization of relevant research or scholarly literature, such as journal articles, books, and conference proceedings. Researchers use various search strategies and sources to gather the material; selection criteria may be loosely defined. When undertaking the literature review, qualitative techniques are often used to identify patterns and themes.

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.

And if you’re interested in getting help with proofreading your research paper, consider our research paper editing services. You can even try a sample of our services for free. Good luck reviewing and researching!

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