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  • Systematic review, scoping review, rapid review, traditional narrative review, and more

The library primarily assists with literature searches, reference management, and screening tools.

Before you begin a review and therefore a targeted and systematic information search you should decide which type of review suits your topic and project best. Here you can find information, tools, and tips for conducting a review as well as assistance in determining which type of review fits your project

Need help?

If you have any questions or concerns, feel free to contact the liason librarian associated with your field, who will be happy to assist you with your questions.

Alternatively, you are always welcome to contact your local library.  


Health - contact: 

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Read more about Covidence and other software for systematic reviews.

Choose the right type of review for your project

There are many different types of reviews, and new ones are still being developed. Which type you should choose depends on your research question, your problem statement, the purpose of the research, and the current conditions for conducting the review. In principle all types of reviews can be used within all academic disciplines. Answering questions on the Right Review page can guide you in the choice of review type.

Get an overview of review types

Type of review Frame Literature search Analysis/synthesis Number of screeners Time frame
Systematic review Focused questions often formulated using the PICO framework (Population / Intervention / Comparison / Outcome) Comprehensive and exhaustive and focused literature search based on a pre-defined protocol Often an examination or comparison of the effects of one or more treatments. analysis/synthesis of empirical studies. Predefined inclusion and exclusion criteria and quality assessment of included studies  2 screeners 1-2 years
Scoping review Focused questions often formulated using the PICO framework (Population / Intervention / Comparison / Outcome)  Comprehensive and exhaustive and focused literature search based on a pre-defined protocol  Broad mapping: what characterises the existing research, what is researched, how is it carried out and to what extent. Often involves different types of studies and not necessarily quality assessment 2 screeners (recommended) Variable
Rapid review Focused question that often examines empirical evidence related to a particular policy or practice issue   Focused and delimited literature search. Pragmatic approach for example delimited to year, language, countries, fewer databases etc.  Typically narrative and in tabular form  1 or more screeners 2-6 months
Traditional narrative review The research question is driven by analytical interests  Focused and delimited literature search. Based on expert selection and evaluation of key literature Provides an in-depth review of key theories, studies and methods within a research area. The focus is on creating meaning and understanding. Typically communicated narratively and aims for an analytical synthesis of current research literature. Aims to conceptualize the current research agenda, theory development, and future research perspective  1 or more screeners Variable
Umbrella review A review that aggregates multiple existing reviews, conducted using the same standard (e.g. PRISMA). It has a more broadly defined question than systematic review, but still precisely defined     Extensive search for systematic reviews and meta-analyses on the topic. No primary studies included Provides an overview of the subject/intervention and identifies deficiencies. Quality assessment of studies included in the systematic reviews and/or of the systematic reviews themselves   2 screeners Variable

The overview of review types is based on the following sources

Types of reviews

Systematic review

The purpose of a systematic review is to find, select, and summarize all available evidence on a specific research question using a predetermined and reproducible method.

A systematic review is characterized by the following requirements:

  • A predefined search protocol specifying the purpose, key concepts, and methods, inclusion and exclusion criteria for the systematic review
  • Research questions can be formulated based on the PICO framework (Population, Intervention, Comparison, Outcome)
  • Accurate documentation of each step and decision along the way - so that the reader can follow and evaluate the reviewer's method
  • The literature search should, in principle, identify everything written about the topic (including grey literature) to avoid bias
  • Use of established standards for assessing the quality of included studies (critical appraisal) and reporting the results (e.g., PRISMA)
  • It requires two people or a team to conduct a systematic review, especially in terms of screening articles and extracting data

Read more about systematic reviews in the Campbell collaboration, in the manual from the Joanna Briggs Institute, and in the Cochrane handbook, where you can also learn about literature searching for a systematic review.

Scoping reviews

Scoping reviews are often referred to as precursors to systematic reviews, as they involve mapping out existing literature within a field.

In scoping reviews you can investigate, among other things, the quantity of literature available, how topics are addressed, and identify gaps or areas in need of updates within a field. In other words, scoping reviews help to provide context for a given research area. Often, you cover a slightly broader range of topics, including various types of studies, compared to a systematic review. Research questions can be formulated using a PCC (Population, Concept, Context) framework.

There is a reporting standard for scoping reviews available from PRISMA, but there is no formal quality assessment.

Learn more about scoping reviews in the manual from the Joanna Briggs Institute.

Research literature review

Research literature review is an overarching term for reviews that utilize the systematic and transparent approach of systematic reviews.

In a research literature review you conduct a thorough exploration of the scientific literature within a specific field in a structured and systematic manner. However, you may not necessarily use established standards for search protocols and reporting. The purpose is often to map out what has been written about an issue and may resemble what is known as a scoping review.

Traditional narrative review

A narrative review does not follow a specific systematic method but relies on the author's interpretation and perspective.

In the traditional narrative review the basis for the literature review is often a defined amount of literature selected by specialists in the field and reviewed according to specific relevance criteria.

The process of the information search and selection is not necessarily described systematically or explicitly but is based on a critical selection and evaluation of key literature.

The goal is often to present "the current state of knowledge" about a specific topic or field. There is often also a desire to present new perspectives, conceptualizations, or understandings through the review.

The research question is driven by analytical interests. The focus is on creating meaning and understanding, as well as providing a thorough overview of key issues, theories, studies, and methods within a research area. It is often communicated narratively and can be an analytical synthesis of the current research literature. The aim may be to conceptualize the current research agenda, theory development and perspective on future research.

There is no gold standard for how a traditional narrative review is reported. However, it is implicitly understood that it should follow traditional academic guidelines.

Rapid review

In short, a rapid review is a simpler and faster form of systematic review.

In a rapid review you have a focused question developed using the same method as a in systematic review. However, you have limited time and resources (budget).

Therefore, the literature search is focused and delimited, and there is a pragmatic approach - for example by limiting to specific years, languages, and countries - and by using fewer databases.

Since rapid reviews can have greater bias transparency and thorough documentation are especially important.

Read more in the guidance on rapid reviews published by Cochrane.

Umbrella reviews

An umbrella review is also known as "review of reviews" or "overview".

You can conduct an umbrella review when there is already a multitude of high-quality systematic reviews on the same topic.

In the literature search you look for reviews rather than primary studies. In some umbrella reviews you assess the quality of the primary studies included in the found reviews.

The purpose of umbrella reviews is to summarize existing knowledge with recommendations for practice. They also highlight areas where knowledge is lacking and suggest potential future research directions.

Read more about umbrella reviews in the manual from the Joanna Briggs Institute.

How to get started


A protocol for a review is a detailed plan that describes the foundation, purpose, and methods for the review you are going to conduct. A protocol is always created before the actual review begins.

The purpose of registering a protocol is to make your review work visible at the earliest stage of the process. This helps avoid topic overlap and creates transparency regarding any changes to mitigate publication bias.

Here is a list of databases or websites for registering protocols as well as templates for developing protocols for reviews:

Campbell Systematic Reviews

Campbell Systematic Reviews is an open access journal that publishes systematic reviews. Read about submitting a systematic review to the journal.

Open Sciences Framework Registry (OSF)

OSF is a free, open source collaboration platform for researchers. Here you can share publications, data, and ongoing research projects.

International Prospective Register of Systematic Reviews (PROSPERO)

PROSPERO is a database for registering protocols for systematic reviews, rapid reviews, and umbrella reviews. The website includes a checklist for the contents of a protocol.

Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis Protocols (PRISMA-P)

PRISMA-P is a checklist you can use to develop and report a protocol.

Screening tools

During the screening process you review each article to determine whether it meets the predefined inclusion and exclusion criteria. In this process you can use screening tools to help you efficiently and systematically review the articles.


AU subscribes to the web-based screening tool Covidence. Covidence assists you in sorting your references, attaching PDF files, and keeping track of which references you exclude and include with attached notes. You can invite colleagues to assess the relevance of the articles.

Employees and students at Aarhus University and Aarhus University Hospital can get institutional access to Covidence. To get access you need to contact one of your local librarians.

Others have the option for a "free trial." However, this comes with a limitation of 500 references. Check Covidence's knowledge base for assistance.

Other Screening Tools

There are many other screening tools tailored to different needs. In this comparison of screening tools for reviews you can explore various options to find a screening tool that suits your review and working method.

Documentation - reporting your reviews

It is important to document the various steps in your review, including literature search, screening, selection, etc.

Reporting Standards

Reporting standards have been developed with the aim of ensuring complete, accurate, and transparent reporting of reviews. PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-analyses) is one of the most commonly used reporting standards.

PRISMA is a tool consisting of a check list and a flow diagram that contains minimum requirements for reporting systematic reviews or meta-analyses. Under Extensions, you can find both a general standard; PRISMA for searching, as well as standards for different types of reviews.

Equator Network (Enhancing the QUAlity and Transparency Of health Research)

An international network working to improve the quality of medical research literature by promoting transparent and accurate reporting of studies.

Updating Literature Searches

Accurate documentation of your literature search is essential because it often takes a relatively long time before publication of the review. Consequently, publishers might demand an update of the initial literature search before the article is published.

Systematic literature searches

Tackle your search process in a structured manner and organise your search in advance. You can minimise the risk of reproducing already existing research and have a greater chance of avoiding bias.


Read more about how to get alerts on articles, new editions of journals, as well as new results for previously performed searches.

Reference management

AU Library supports the reference management tool EndNote, which all employees and students at Aarhus University have access to for free.