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EES3001 Professional Scientific Literacy

This guide provides resources to help you with your rapid review assignment

Presentation Slides for Asynchronous Viewing

What's in this Guide

This guide is primarily for students conducting systematic or rapid reviews for thesis/dissertation or course work.

This guide will teach you to:

  1. Break research questions into searchable concepts
  2. Determine which databases to search, and why
  3. Understand what search limits are and where to find them
  4. Use grey literature to complement your search
  5. Document and store the material you find

This guide also provides basic information on how to conduct your search; for more in-depth help, book a research consultation with a librarian.

What Are Systematic Reviews?

“A systematic review attempts to identify, appraise and synthesize all the empirical evidence that meets pre-specified eligibility criteria to answer a given research question. Researchers conducting systematic reviews use explicit methods aimed at minimizing bias, in order to produce more reliable findings that can be used to inform decision making.”

- Cochrane Library, About Cochrane Reviews

Library books

Source: “Library books,” CCAC North Library

Systematic Reviews are comprehensive analyses of all the scientific research on a specific question. They answer the question: what does the evidence say about this particular topic/issue?

A systematic review is not the same as a narrative review or a literature review. Unlike other kinds of reviews, systematic ones must be as thorough and unbiased as possible, and must also make explicit how the search was conducted.

Students conducting research

Source: “Research - IMG_1367,” Nicola 

A true systematic review:

  • Is produced by at least two people
  • Usually takes between 9 and 12 months
  • Involves rigorous checks for thoroughness and bias

If you are a student, you're probably not conducting a systematic review in the true sense, but are working on a systematic review-like project.


Grey Literature: Any literature that is not published in the traditional sense. See the page in this guide.

Meta-analysis: Statistical analysis of data that has been collected in a systematic review. Not all systematic reviews include meta-analysis, but all meta-analyses are found in systematic reviews.

Protocols: Plans for future systematic reviews. Protocols describe the research question and the intended search process.

Scoping Reviews: Reviews that determine the general state of a topic in question and locate gaps in the literature. They are more broad and less thorough than systematic reviews.

Rapid Reviews: Rapid reviews are a form of knowledge synthesis in which components of the systematic review process are simplified or omitted to produce information in a timely manner.

Many thanks to...

Allison Bell and the Gerstein Science Information Centre who provided inspiration and content for the original version of this guide.