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Gerstein Science Information Centre

Knowledge syntheses: Systematic & Scoping Reviews, and other review types

What are knowledge syntheses?

In the context of knowledge translation, "synthesis" according to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (2016) is defined as:

"'the contextualization and integration of research findings of individual research studies within the larger body of knowledge on the topic. A synthesis must be reproducible and transparent in its methods, using quantitative and/or qualitative methods. It could take the form of a systematic review; follow the methods developed by The Cochrane Collaboration; result from a consensus conference or expert panel and may synthesize qualitative or quantitative results."

Realist syntheses, narrative syntheses, meta-analyses, meta-syntheses and practice guidelines are all forms of synthesis.

Knowledge Syntheses - Differences and Similtarities

The following table displays the similarities and differences between the most common types of reviews. This table was adapted from a variety of sources (Booth, 2016; Grant and Booth, 2009; Higgins & Green, 2011Pham et al., 2014; and Tricco et al., 2015)

Knowledge synthesis 

A priori protocol required?

Protocol registration required? 

 Comprehensive  search?

Duplicate screening & data extraction?

Critical appraisal?

  Statistical analysis?


Systematic Review

YES, often published PROSPERO, JBI, OSF YES YES YES YES 1+ yr

Meta Analysis

YES, often published PROSPERO, JBI, OSF YES  YES YES  YES 1+ yr

Scoping Review

YES JBI, OSFResearch Registry & other  registries YES YES NO NO, charted evidence ~ 1 yr

 Rapid Review

YES, often not published OSFResearch Registry, & other registries

NO, varied # of databases, dates and other limits

Varied NO, but recommended

 NO, varied analysis methods

 ~1 - 6 mo

 Realist Review

YES, some published OSFResearch Registry, & other registries YES  YES NO NO  1+ yr

 Overview of reviews

YES, often published PROSPERO, OSF, & other registries

 YES, only reviews included

 YES YES YES  ~ 1 yr
Mapping Review Encouraged OSF, Research Registry, & other registries  YES  Varied NO NO 1+ yr 
Narrative Review NO Not necessary Varied, not necessary Varied, not necessary  NO NO

6 mo

- 1 yr 

Quiz: What Review is Right for You?

If you're wondering what type of knowledge synthesis best suits your research purposes, complete this short quiz

Please note that as of December 2019, this tool has 10 potential outcomes, all of which are for quantitative studies. Stay tuned for this tool to include qualitative studies!