Systematic literature reviews

Systematic approaches to literature review searching

This guide is primarily for those undertaking a literature review. It outlines how to approach the searching phase systematically in order to identify relevant literature on a research question.

Why be systematic? This approach can:

  • Provide a robust overview of the available literature on your topic
  • Ensure relevant literature is identified and key publications are not overlooked
  • Reduce irrelevant search results through search planning
  • Help you to create a reproducible search strategy.

In addition, applying a systematic approach will allow you to work more efficiently.

A literature review may form an essential part of the research process, for example as a major component of a thesis or dissertation. Alternatively, a review may constitute a research project in itself - as a peer-reviewed publication in a journal, or as a report from a research funded project.

While the searching phase of any literature review should be approached in a systematic manner, you do not need to follow all of the techniques outlined in this guide. The methods you choose are dependent on the time and resources you have available, and the purpose of your literature review.

Systematic reviews vs. systematic approaches

A full systematic review aims to comprehensively identify, evaluate and integrate the findings of all relevant studies on a particular research question. A systematic approach involves a rigorous and structured search strategy, without necessarily attempting to include all available research on a particular topic.