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Systematic style literature reviews for education and social sciences

A guide to conducting a systematic styled literature review in the social sciences disciplines

Different types of literature review

Different types of literature reviews

Narrative or Traditional literature reviews

Narrative or Traditional literature reviews critique and summarise a body of literature about the thesis topic.  The literature is researched from the relevant databases and is generally very selective in the material used. The criteria for literature selection for a narrative review is not always made open to the reader. These reviews are very useful in gathering and synthesising the literature. The principle purpose of a narrative review is the give the author and reader a comprehensive overview of the topic and to highlight significant areas of research. Narrative reviews can help to identify gaps in the research and help to refine and define research questions. Where a narrative approach differs from a systematic approach is in the notation of search methods criteria for selection. A systematic review will include selection criteria for inclusion or exclusion, whereas a narrative review does not list the inclusion/exclusion criteria. This could lead to narrative reviews being seen as containing a bias. 

Scoping Reviews

A scoping review is quite similar to a Systematic literature review. The key difference being that there are no restrictions on the materials resourced. The purpose of the scoping review is to find ALL the materials on the topic. When undertaking a scoping review it is important to systematise your search strategies to ensure you can replicate your searches and to attend to any gaps that appear in results. 

When reading and sorting the results, again, apply some of the measures used in a systematic review so that your search results are sorted by key themes and well organised. 

Systematic style literature review

A systematic-style literature review uses elements and methods of a systematic quantitative or qualitative review in its research methods but is then generally written up in a more traditional form.  For example, when researching a systematic-style review, you would take careful notes on what you have searched for, and in which databases, in the same way as you would with a more formal review type. You would also state your inclusion and exclusion criteria for papers read in your final literature review, but you do not necessarily need to gather quantitative or qualitative evidence from your reading.  This style of review is very common in social science research as recording your search and evaluation methodology adds authority to you final product.


Systematic Quantitative Literature Review

Catherine Pickering, academic staff member of Griffith University has been instrumental in developing and promoting the Systematic Quantitative Literature Review or SQLR.

Pickering Systematic Quantitative literature review 

The Pickering method web page is a thorough guide to the systematic literature review process and contains links to videos and examples of:
    Setting up a systematic quantitative literature review
    Development review criteria categories
    How to record criteria data with spreadsheets
    How to undertake analysis of the literature

The purpose of an SQLR is to find, quantify and codify all relevant literature in a spreadsheet or table for analysis. Quantifying the status and characteristics of literature relating to a research area helps to and identify theme and gaps in available research to better guide your research project..  The quantification process helps with evidence-based decision making and informs future research directions. The review process identifies, evaluates and summarises the findings of all eligible studies.  SQLRs are useful for providing a comprehensive overview and interpretation of research on a topic.

Creators of this guide acknowledge the influence of Catherine Pickering's method.

Cochrane Reviews

Cochrane Reviews

Cochrane Reviews are systematic reviews primary research in human health care and health policy, and are internationally recognised as the highest standard in evidence-based health care. They investigate the effects of interventions for prevention, treatment and rehabilitation. They also assess the accuracy of a diagnostic test for a given condition in a specific patient group and setting.

Campbell Collaboration

Campbell Collaboration The Campbell Collaboration is an international research network that produces systematic reviews of the effects of social interventions in crime and justice, education, international development, and social welfare. 


Integrative reviews are designed to give researchers a more complete picture of a situation or experience.  An integrative review combines the findings of diverse types of research (that is, both empirical and theoretical). This review type is most useful when trying to gain an understanding of people's needs and experiences.


 Combines data from multiple independent studies addressing the same question.    Requires empirical evidence in the form of randomised controlled trials. Meta-Analysis are undertaken by groups of researchers as the numbers of papers reviewed is very large. Meta- analysis are useful for providing a better estimate of the impact or effectiveness of an intervention, meta-analysis are used in health, sciences and humanities.


An iterative review is a relatively comprehensive, algorithm-based literature review that collates all studies in a field of research. A reduction process is used to remove unnecessary titles, then a manual process applied to assess relevance to the field of research. Remaining articles and studies are categorised, which enables iterative coding to be applied to remaining data arrays to show interesting and useful information across a field of research.


Examines, interprets and integrates findings of several qualitative studies using qualitative methods. Meta-synthesis are used in research looking at theory development. Meta-synthesis are used for clarifying concepts and patterns, and refining existing models and theories.


Rapid reviews are undertaken to help support time-sensitive decision making. Standard systematic review procedures are adapted by removing or modifying some steps. These reviews are undertaken to quickly find information on a topic to support a project or decision making. Rapid reviews are useful in delivering answers in a shortened time frame.


Umbrella reviews bring together reviews that answer different questions which all relate to a shared topic. These reviews find, contrast and synthesise the findings from other systematic-style reviews. Umbrella reviews are developed to giver researchers and decision makers  a clear understanding of a broad topic area in a shortened time frame. 


These definitions have been developed with thanks from