The purpose of a literature review is to give an overview of the research on a specific topic, the methods used within a certain research area, the theories developed in relation to observations, or examples of applications of certain research results (particularly in medicine).

A literature review can be conducted in different contexts, such as:

  • an introductory part of an article or a thesis, in order to give an account of the research literature on the selected topic
  • in a research application, in order to give an overview of the research area and to identify knowledge gaps
  • a stand-alone review of the current state of knowledge within a specific topic
  • groundwork for an evidence-based policy document

The purpose of this LibGuide is to introduce methods for literature searching for systematic literature reviews. 


Types of reviews

There are three main types of reviews: 

  • The traditional review can be organized and formulated in different ways, depending on approach and method. It can be subdivided in different kinds with various designations. For a more detailed presentation of these see Grant & Booth, 2009.

  • The systematic review aims for a more systematic and deepened search connected to a specific research issue in order to identify relevant studies to be critically reviewed and to compile the results according to pre-set criteria. 

  • Meta-analysis uses statistical methods to combine the results of quantitative studies.

The comparison below gives a condensed overview (from Jesson, Matheson & Lacey, 2011, p. 105) Source: Karolinska Institutet's University Library, 2021.


Traditional review

Systematic review


To gain a broad understanding, and description of the field

Tightly specified aim and objectives with a specific review question


Big picture

Narrow focus

Planning the review

No defined path, allows for creativity and exploration

Transparent  process and documented audit trail

Identifying studies

Searching is probing, moving from one study to another, following up leads

Rigorous and comprehensive search for ALL studies

Selection of studies

Purposive selection made by the reviewer

Predetermined criteria for including and excluding studies

Quality assessment

Based on the reviewer's opinion

Checklists to assess the methodological quality of studies

Analysis and synthesis


In tabular format and short summary answers

Methodological report

Not necessarily given

Must be presented for transparency



Search support for researchers

LiU researchers and PhD students can consult a librarian, for example when doing a literature review for a dissertation or a systematic review. Together we will look at your specific research questions and discuss topics such as:

  • selecting databases and search tools
  • selecting keywords
  • constructing search strings
  • documenting searches
  • managing search results

Make an appointment by completing this form:

Search support for researchers