I know what a literature review is and was wondering what makes such a review systematic? What extra steps do people usually go through when they do a systematic literature review? how is it different from regular literature review? The field is software engineering if it matters.

4 Answers 4


The quintessence of the systematic review is that it's, well, systematic. That is to say, you have a system by which you do the review: a detailed protocol that you work by, just like when you run experiments. The protocol sets out how you will define your search terms, where you will search, what your criteria are for inclusion are, what your criteria for exclusion are, and so on.

The idea is that, just as with an experiment's protocol, it would allow someone else to reproduce your work: in this case, your trawl through the literature. It gives you and your reviewers and readers a basis for assessing how comprehensive your review is. It may include a detailed protocol for quantitative meta-analysis or qualitative synthesis.

Systematic reviews can be hugely varied in form and scope: I've got 3 books that each provide part of the answer to this question. Check your library (possibly in the medical / epidemiological section) - they should have at least one of these.

  • 17
    That's the answer I was going to write, only more extensive. One thing to note, though - just being "systematic" does not make a SLR good. It is perfectly possible to do a highly systematic but also terrible literature review.
    – xLeitix
    Dec 21, 2014 at 3:38


A systematic review (also systematic literature review or structured literature review, SLR) is a literature review focused on a research question that tries to identify, appraise, select and synthesize all high quality research evidence relevant to that question.

One among many roughly equivalent definitions easily found on the web. Some place a higher emphasis on having precisely defined criteria for defining "high quality" and "relevant", so it might be worth doing a systematic review of these definitions and synthesizing a combined definition from them.


More recently, I find that Prof Justin Paul has published a few good articles (guidance) on systematic literature review (SLR) [See his 2019-2022 articles in Google Scholar].

Among those, this could be particularly helpful: Paul, J., & Barari, M. (2022). Meta‐analysis and traditional systematic literature reviews—What, why, when, where, and how?. Psychology & Marketing. https://doi.org/10.1002/mar.21657. According to this article (also see Table 1 for details),

SLR method is considered to be a scientific and highly informative method for systematically collecting, reviewing, and synthesizing research findings on a particular topic to determine what is known – and what is not known — at domain.

Regarding extra steps in SLR - a current trend is to use software R for collecting literature for review quickly. A few videos are available online, and these 2022 articles could help: SLR on Cybersecurity, SLR on safety and security elements in omnichannel Retailing.


This question is a bit older, but I thought I would add a couple other suggestions for resources to hopefully help anyone else with a similar question.

Grant and Booth, 2009 (https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1471-1842.2009.00848.x) offers a typology of 14 different types of reviews, including systematic reviews, and compares and contrasts between the different types in detail in terms of their methods, strengths, weaknesses, and applications. Their basic description of a systematic review is: "Seeks to systematically search for, appraise and synthesis research evidence, often adhering to guidelines on the conduct of a review".

I have also included below two examples of manuals that describe systematized review guidelines in detail.

The Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions (https://training.cochrane.org/handbook/current) is one of the most widely recognized resources for planning a systematic review, particularly in the health sciences though it is also used by other fields (including I would imagine software engineering). Cochrane was also one of the earliest organizations to produce and publish systematic reviews. Their handbook provides a comprehensive description of their systematic review requirements and best practices, which they update regularly.

Similar to Cochrane, there is the Collaboration for Environmental Evidence which also publishes its own manual on systematic reviews that may be more applicable to other fields in the life sciences (https://environmentalevidence.org/information-for-authors/).

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