Skip to Main Content

Evidence Synthesis in the Social Sciences

What are the Differences Between Review Types?

It's very common to not know what the differences are between different types of reviews. If you're feeling confused about what type of review is right for your project, you're not alone! Here are a few papers that can help you determine the difference between different review methods: 

Types of Evidence Synthesis

The following are some of the common types of evidence synthesis. 

Method Characteristics Social Science Example
Systematic Review
  • Uses transparent, standardized, and systematized methods to locate, collect, filter, and synthesize all available quality evidence on a certain focused topic 
  • Evaluates and synthesizes evidence found in order to answer a very specific and focused research question 
  • Can take a long time -- up to a year or more. Usually conducted by a team. 

Loong, D., Bonato, S., Barnsley, J., & Dewa, C. S.(2019). The effectiveness of mental health courts in reducing recidivism and police contact: A systematic reviewCommunity Mental Health Journal, 55, 1073-1098. doi: 10.1007/s10597-019-00421-9

Scoping Review
  • Uses transparent, standardized, and systematized methods to locate, collect, and filter evidence 
  • Rather than synthesizing evidence (like in a systematic review), scoping reviews might try to identify gaps in the existing evidence, see what evidence is available on a topic, characterize how research is done on a certain topic, clarify a topic, or might be done to preclude a systematic review. 
  • Can take a long time -- up to a year or more. Usually conducted by a team. 
Langevin, R., Marshall, C., & Kingsland, E. (2021). Intergenerational Cycles of Maltreatment: A Scoping Review of Psychosocial Risk and Protective Factors. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 22(4), 672–688.
Literature (Narrative) Review
  • A broader review characterized by a non-reproducible or non-transparent methodology.
  • Doesn't seek to identify all of the available quality evidence on a topic, but rather seeks to provide a broad overview of a topic. 

Burgess, D., & Shier, M. L. (2018). Food insecurity and social work: A comprehensive literature reviewInternational Social Work, 61(6), 826-842.

  • Uses statistical methods to summarize results from quantitative evidence 
  • Sometimes added to a systematic review 
Smith, N., Georgiou, M., King, A. C., Tieges, Z., Webb, S., & Chastin, S. (2021). Urban blue spaces and human health: A systematic review and meta-analysis of quantitative studies. Cities, 119, 103413–.
Umbrella Review
  • A review of other reviews on a topic 
Ehsan, A., Klaas, H. S., Bastianen, A., & Spini, D. (2019). Social capital and health: A systematic review of systematic reviews. SSM - Population Health, 8, 100425–100425.
Rapid Review Nussbaumer-Streit, B., Mayr, V., Dobrescu, A. I., Chapman, A., Persad, E., Klerings, I., Wagner, G., Siebert, U., Christof, C., Zachariah, C., & Gartlehner, G. (2020). Quarantine alone or in combination with other public health measures to control COVID‐19: a rapid review. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2020(6), CD013574–CD013574.

Table developed and adapted from Cornell University Libraries and University of British Columbia Libraries' LibGuides. 

What Type of Review is Right for Your Project?

There are many factors to consider when choosing the type of review appropriate for your research topic. Some of these factors include: 

  • Time constraints
  • Team Size 
  • Research question specificity
  • Amount of evidence you want to gather

Use these resources to determine the type of review that is right for you: 


© , Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Rutgers is an equal access/equal opportunity institution. Individuals with disabilities are encouraged to direct suggestions, comments, or complaints concerning any accessibility issues with Rutgers websites to or complete the Report Accessibility Barrier / Provide Feedback form.