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Bachelor of Science in Nursing Research Guide

A research guide to find BSN resources from the EFSC Libraries

What's the difference? Literature Review vs. Systematic Review

Literature reviews and systematic reviews both summarize evidence, however, each takes a different approach to gathering and reviewing the evidence. Systematic reviews have a higher level of credibility.

Literature Review

Systematic Review

Summarizes literature on a topic
Doesn't include all evidence on a topic
Database searching may not be comprehensive
Can be biased as no inclusion criteria are indentified
Written by one or more people
Answers a focused clinical question
Includes all evidence on the clinical question
Comprehensive searching of all relevant databases
Identifies a list of inclusion and exclusion criteria for the evidence
Each article included in the review is assessed by a team
Follows a scientific process to analyze data gathered to answer the clinical question
Can include a statistical analysis of the data (also known as a meta-analysis)

Article: Literature Review vs. Systematic Review

Evidence Pyramid

Consider the type of research article retrieved. The higher on the evidence pyramid, the more credible the article.

Levels of Evidence Pyramid

From University of Illinois Chicago. Library of the Health Sciences. Evidence Based Medicine. Used under a CC BY-NC license.

Levels of Evidence Definitions

The following definitions comes from the BMJ Clinical Evidence Glossary of EBM Terms.

Systematic Review: A review in which...appropriate methods have been used to identify, appraise, and summarise studies addressing a defined question. It can, but need not, involve meta-analysis. A meta-analysis is a statistical technique that summarises the results of several studies in a single weighted estimate, in which more weight is given to results of studies with more events and sometimes to studies of higher quality.

Randomized Controlled Trials: A trial in which participants are randomly assigned to two or more groups: at least one (the experimental group) receiving an intervention that is being tested and another (the comparison or control group) receiving an alternative treatment or placebo. This design allows assessment of the relative effects of interventions.

Cohort Studies: A non-experimental study design that follows a group of people (a cohort), and then looks at how events differ among people within the group.  Prospective cohort studies (which track participants forward in time) are more reliable than retrospective cohort studies (which track participants backwards in time).

Case-Control Studies: A study design that examines a group of people who have experienced an event (usually an adverse event) and a group of people who have not experienced the same event, and looks at how exposure to suspect (usually noxious) agents differed between the two groups. This type of study design is most useful for trying to ascertain the cause of rare events, such as rare cancers.

Case Series: Analysis of series of people with the disease (there is no comparison group in case series).


BMJ Publishing Group. (2012, September 20). A glossary of EBM terms. In EBM Toolbox. Retrieved from