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Evidence Synthesis in the Social Sciences

What is a Rapid Review?

Rapid review is a type of evidence synthesis that offer timelier information for decision-making when compared to conventional systematic reviews. They utilize systematic and transparent techniques to pinpoint, choose, assess, and analyze data from pertinent research, ensuring a comprehensive and efficient synthesis of evidence.

However, multiple strategies can simplify the review process, including 1. reduction of database usage, 2. employing a single reviewer with subsequent verification, 3. minimizing reliance on grey literature, and 4. narrowing the review's scope.

In real world settings, there are situations that require an urgent need to assess literature swiftly. The delayed nature of traditional evidence synthesis poses a significant hurdle in situations requiring reviews to be published swiftly to inform policy and decision making. To combat this, rapid reviews have surfaced as a viable solution to expedite the process and ensure timely, informed decision-making. For instance, during times of evolving research and critical events such as the COVID-19 pandemic, rapid reviews play a pivotal role in exploring new and emerging research topics, updating previous reviews, and critically assessing policy or practice.

When to conduct a rapid review?

Rapid reviews are particularly useful in the following situations:

1. Emergencies and urgent decision-making scenarios where timely evidence synthesis is critical.
2. Policy and program evaluations that require quick assessments of available evidence.
3. When there is an immediate need to update or build upon existing reviews with new evidence.
4. To address time and resource constraints, especially when conducting a full systematic review is not feasible.
5. Exploratory or scoping research to assess the landscape and identify gaps for future in-depth analysis.
6. For preliminary assessments of the feasibility and viability of conducting a comprehensive systematic review.
7. When stakeholders require a concise and quickly digestible summary of existing evidence for decision-making purposes.


Examples of rapid review: 

Limitations of a Rapid Review

  •  Reduced comprehensiveness compared to traditional systematic reviews
  •  Constraints on the depth of the literature search
  •  Potential exclusion of relevant studies
  •  Limitations in thorough data extraction and critical appraisal
  •  Impact on the overall quality and reliability of the findings
  •  Challenges in ensuring inclusivity of diverse perspectives
  •  Potential limitations in comprehensive stakeholder engagement
  •  Impact on the applicability and relevance of the conclusions drawn

Essential Resources

Cochrane Rapid Reviews Methods Group Offers guidance and resources for researchers conducting rapid reviews within the Cochrane framework.

Rapid reviews and the methodological rigor of evidence synthesis: a JBI position statement

Tricco, Khalil, et al (2022). Rapid reviews and the methodological rigor of evidence synthesis: a JBI position statement. JBI Evidence Synthesis 20(4):p 944-949,| DOI: 10.11124/JBIES-21-00371

 A Scoping Review of Rapid Review Methods

Tricco AC, Antony J, Zarin W, Strifler L, Ghassemi M, Ivory J, Perrier L, Hutton B, Moher D, Straus SE.(2015) A scoping review of rapid review methods. BMC Med.13:224. doi: 10.1186/s12916-015-0465-6


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