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Systematic Literature Review vs. Literature Review: Understanding the Differences

In the academic world, reviews of the literature are essential tools for researchers to keep up-to-date with the latest findings in their field, draw conclusions, and identify gaps in knowledge. Two commonly used types of reviews are literature reviews and systematic reviews. Although these terms are often used interchangeably, they are not the same. In this blog post, we'll delve into the differences between these two types of reviews and why each one is important.

What is a Literature Review?

A literature review is a comprehensive overview of significant literature published on a specific topic. The primary purpose of a literature review is to provide a summary and synthesis of the ideas and theories presented in the existing literature. Literature reviews can be standalone documents, or they can form part of a larger research project, such as the background section of a thesis or dissertation.

In a literature review, the author selects and summarizes the most relevant publications on the topic, identifying key themes and arguments, and comparing and contrasting different viewpoints. The process can be somewhat subjective, as the researcher relies on their expertise to determine which studies are most significant.

What is a Systematic Review?

A systematic review, on the other hand, is a more rigorous and well-defined type of literature review. It involves a detailed and comprehensive plan and search strategy derived a priori, with the aim of reducing bias by identifying, appraising, and synthesizing all relevant studies on a particular topic. Systematic reviews often include a meta-analysis, which involves using statistical techniques to synthesize the data from different studies into a single quantitative estimate or summary effect size.

Key Differences Between a Literature Review and a Systematic Review

1. Methodology

The most significant difference between a literature review and a systematic review lies in their methodology. A literature review involves a subjective and broad overview of existing literature on a topic. In contrast, a systematic review uses a rigorous and transparent approach to minimize bias and produce reliable findings. This involves a clear statement of the objectives, a reproducible methodology, a systematic search that attempts to identify all studies, a critical appraisal of the quality of the included studies, systematic coding and analysis of included studies, and a rigorous interpretation of the results.

2. Purpose

A literature review aims to give a broad overview of the topic and summarizes and synthesizes the existing literature. A systematic review, however, seeks to answer a defined research question by collecting and summarizing all empirical evidence that fits pre-specified eligibility criteria. It provides a complete summary of current literature relevant to a research question.

3. Scope

A literature review can cover a wide range of subjects at various levels of completeness and comprehensiveness based on the length of the review article. On the other hand, a systematic review focuses on a specific question and collects all the relevant studies that relate to this question.

4. Time and Effort

Systematic reviews are generally more resource-intensive and time-consuming than literature reviews. They require a significant effort to identify all relevant studies, assess the quality of the studies, extract the data, and synthesize the results. Conversely, a literature review, while still requiring significant intellectual work, may not require the same level of resources or the stringent protocols followed in a systematic review.

In Summary

Both literature reviews and systematic reviews play crucial roles in the academic world. Literature reviews offer a broad overview of a topic and provide a summary of the current understanding and a look at where future research might head. Systematic reviews, meanwhile, provide a more focused and in-depth look at a specific question, delivering high-quality evidence and reliable findings.

Understanding the differences between the two can help researchers and readers alike to appreciate the depth and quality of the information provided and to apply this knowledge effectively

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