Systematic Review vs. Literature Review - Nursing Research

Written by Brandon L.
April 08, 202310 min read

All collected medical and clinical evidence is analyzed and reported through different review methods. Therefore, it is acceptable that one will confuse between systematic review and literature review methods. These reviews determine the summary of research on a particular topic. They also have their place in the scientific literature with different advantages and disadvantages. Nevertheless, even with this commonality, the two methods vary significantly. The type of review you select will depend on why you are conducting the research (Research purpose, problem, and scope).

A systematic review is comprehensive and precise because it aims at answering a specific research question. A literature review, on the other hand, focuses more on answering a broader question. The key difference is in the methodology followed.

Our trusted medical and nursing research writers have taken their time to share their insights in this article that defines the two reviews and shows the differences between them and their strengths and limitations.

What is Literature Review in Nursing?

A literature review is a piece of text that demonstrates the knowledge and understanding you have acquired from reviewing a particular topic in your field of study. It also involves critically evaluating all the materials used. Literature review is a discussion of published material in a certain subject area. Thus when conducting the review, you must have a collection of material on the particular research area.

You will be asked to write a literature review as a separate study assignment. However, sometimes it can be part of your essay or thesis introduction. The purpose is usually to show the readers the ideas used to build a topic and their strengths and weaknesses.

In healthcare, a literature review aims at doing the following:

A good literature review should attempt to provide the following information:

Note that all sources used in the literature review should be relevant, credible, and authoritative if you want to make an impact.

With that said, consider the following nursing literature reviews written by other nursing students to help you create yours correctly.

Unlike other types of academic writing, literature reviews do not aim to develop a new argument but rather an overview of your research. Therefore, when writing a literature review, make sure you do the following:

The following resources can help you conduct a literature review:

What is Systematic Review in Nursing?

This research process uses rigorous and repeatable methods to locate, select and synthesize a large number of sources to come up with comprehensive and unbiased data. In nursing, systematic reviews summarize healthcare studies and controlled trials to provide evidence about the effectiveness of healthcare interventions.

Systematic reviews aim to answer clearly formulated nursing research questions and show the methods that got you there. The important aspect of the systematic review is planning your work before you begin your search. To succeed in systematic reviews is a process that should be followed and documented effectively to ensure others can replicate it.

The key components of the systematic review are as follows:

These are principles laying the foundations for the whole review process;

Systematic reviews address a particular clinical question.

The following are examples of systematic nursing reviews. They have helped provide the much-needed knowledge that has provided needed intervention strategies to care for patients:

Differences between a Literature Review and Systematic Review

The following is the difference between a literature review and a systematic review.

The goal of the Review

A literature review aims to provide foundation information about a particular topic of interest. For this reason, the research methodology is less thorough. As you write the research, you are trying to come up with an overview of a particular topic as an introduction to a research paper. This then helps establish the reviewer's position in that particular field. The overview can be obtained in two different ways: first, through evaluation of all the available research, assumptions, and evidence. Secondly, through critical analysis.

On the other hand, a systematic review aims at providing meticulous answers to a particular clinical question. To effectively answer these questions, one must be thorough and accurate; otherwise, it could result in life-threatening consequences. This then calls for the need to use a systematic approach. With that said, a systematic review aims to establish authoritative findings based on existing evidence through thorough and reliable research frameworks.

Search Strategy for Finding Primary Sources

A literature review collects primary sources (original information) and publications in an index and only one specific database. These publications can be in various formats, including print and online. This search is comprehensively conducted but is not exhaustive. A literature review can also use biased sources to gather information.

A systematic review, on the other hand, relies on information from multiple databases or sources, including blogs, unpublished research, pharmaceutical companies, and government reports. This information is conducted comprehensively to reduce biases. To develop a search strategy, you must develop a focused question, find the databases to do your research, create keywords, and use Boolean operators to combine them.

Assessing Search Results

In literature reviews, there is a need to find the right balance between the sensitivity and specificity of the search. For instance, how many articles do you find that are potentially relevant, and how many articles do you find that are definitely relevant? Do all this with the realization in mind that there is a chance that you will miss some search results. On the other hand, in a systematic review, the search will be extremely sensitive because you aim to fund a relevant article. With this said you would establish parameters for inclusion before the project and apply them consistently in your search results. These parameters comprise PICOs (patient/population/ problem, interventions, comparison, outcome.

In addition, there is a dual independent review of the search results in a systematic review. This means two people review each search result to reduce biases when selecting primary studies. However, in the other reviews, there is only one reviewer.

Presentation of Results Findings

Many literature review findings are presented in either a narrative or a discussion format. These are simply results summaries that analyze published information about a particular subject. Because of this, literature reviews are sometimes referred to as narrative reviews.

Conversely, a systematic review is thorough and requires more professionalism and transparency. The results from the evidence collected are then interpreted through statistical methods such as numerical effects or textual summaries.


A lot goes into systematic reviews, which is why it could take a while to complete them. Generally, this timeline can be between 9-12 months, depending on the type of research question you have. However, some could take even years because they require extensive research.

Note that how quickly you finish your work will depend on how easy it is to access all the source articles.

On the other hand, completing a literature review depends on the requirements given. For instance, writing it as part of your introduction or thesis can take a few hours, but writing as a separate assignment could take up to six months to complete.


The length of the literature review will vary depending on who the intended target is, your level of education, and the purpose for writing. If you are writing a thesis or dissertation, it can be up to 20 pages long. Note that the literature review should never exceed 20% of the entire project. If the dissertation is between 100-150 words, the review can be up to 60 pages long. However, if it is a regular assignment, it can be shorter. For instance, if you are writing a research paper that is eight pages long, the review should not be more than two pages long.

Systematic reviews are usually around 4000 words depending on the instructions given by your instructor.

Strengths and Limitations of Literature Review Systematic Review

Strengths of Literature Review

Like any other review, a literature review has strengths that make it ideal for any researcher.

Provides Familiarity with a Current Clinical Information

Researchers conducting literature reviews can become familiar with a particular topic in the field of nursing. It can also help one understand the strength and limitations of previous research and determine whether it is worth it to build on them. In addition, a literature review identifies existing knowledge gaps and helps formulate new research questions.

Clarify Research Questions

One of the main objectives of the literature review is that it helps researchers formulate clear and concise questions to use in the research. Researchers, therefore, have to read extensively on a particular topic to come up with the questions to be addressed through research.

Information Synthesis

A literature review is a systematic analysis of materials. It can synthesize information and then conclude a particular topic. Since there is careful evaluation and critical summarization, one can draw a clear picture of the chosen topic.

Give Context to a Study

A literature review gives context to a research study by showing the connection to published materials. It shows all the major issues in that field of study, describing them in a way others can understand.

Identify the Need for More Research

A literature review offers a critical analysis of the current research, directing your objectives.

Limitations of Literature Review

Despite the advantages, a literature review has some limitations.

Risk of Biases

There are no set methods that ensure all the literature has been considered. Thus, it is easy for it to have biases.

There is No Critical Appreciation

In most cases, there is no need for critical appreciation. Some of the researchers just end up creating descriptive reviews. These reviews are usually summaries of other writers' work and lack criticality.

When is it Appropriate to Use Literature Review?

Literature reviews are an important part of academic research. They can be written as a separate assignment or form part of an introduction to academic writing. They are also used to fill any gaps in the literature by providing room for more research.

Strengths of Systematic Reviews

Systematic reviews have gained popularity in clinical settings because they are accurate, replicable, and unbiased. You will achieve these benefits from using this review.


Healthcare researchers can gain answers to clearly defined questions. For instance, how a particular drug can help treat certain illnesses.

Explicit and Systematic Methodology

A systematic review is not something that occurs in a single day. It involves thorough and careful planning. Every part of the systematic review process is planned before the work begins and makes available to the general public ensuring transparency. There is the PICOS framework to come up with a research question. Before search studies are selected, strict eligibility criteria are put in place for inclusion and exclusion.

Comprehensive and Exhaustive

The quality of the review results is expected to be high, so there is a thorough search of data on a particular topic. It employs methods that consider every possible evidence to synthesize the outcome. Specific and/or defined keywords are employed when sourcing data. In addition, all the research materials are collected from multiple databases and sources, including government reports, pharmaceutical companies, conference proceedings, and so much more.


Since every detail of the review process is predetermined and published (known as the review protocol), peer review can counter-check the work. Replicability ensures that there is a greater degree of confidence in the research.

Reliable and Accurate Results

All the work put into the systematic review leads to high-quality results. This is considered the most reliable source of evidence for guiding clinical decisions.

Limitations of Systematic Review

Although systematic reviews comprehensively review the research topic, they can sometimes be misleading. Here are some of the limitations to look out for:

Susceptibility to Biases

Systematic reviews are prone to the risk of certain forms of biases, which can appear at any stage. For instance, when a researcher fails to identify all the data available for the chosen topic. A bias is a methodological error that leads to the misinterpretation of study outcomes.

Possibility of Misleading the Audience

While conducting research, the researcher may only report significant outcomes that serve their interests. Take note that if this happens, it can have serious consequences.

When is it Appropriate to Conduct a Systematic Review?

When in need of answers to the effectiveness of a particular treatment question, you can conduct a systematic review. You need to follow the PICO framework to identify all the components of clinical evidence. An example is as follows: what is the effectiveness of an Alarm (intervention) versus drug treatment (comparison) in preventing nocturnal enuresis (outcome) in young children (population).

Read our complete PICO framework guide to understand what goes into formulating PICOT questions and statements for effective clinical or medical research.

Parting Shot on Literature Review vs. Systematic Reviews

Review methods are constantly evolving by finding new ways of synthesizing evidence. Systematic reviews have influenced various types of reviews, including literature reviews. Therefore, it is common to confuse systematic reviews and literature reviews. This is because both are used to come up with a summary of existing research on a particular topic. However, even with this, both types of reviews vary significantly. Therefore, understanding the differences can help you determine the appropriate review for your research.

The literature review provides an overview of a topic to show existing gaps, so you need to set a high-quality question to focus on. You can mention in detail or briefly any literature that touches on the question at hand. When writing a systematic review, you need to set clear objectives, focus on clearly defined, answerable clinical questions, and use PICO as a guide.

If you are struggling with writing a literature review for your capstone project, dissertation, or evidence-based paper, we have literature review writers you can trust. Similarly, our systematic review writers are a click away. Place your order by clicking the order button and filling out the form. All our papers are 100% original, human-written, and error-free. Try us today!

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