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Systematic Reviews & Other Syntheses


The purpose of this guide is to connect you with useful information and resources for embarking on a systematic review or other type of synthesis. Information about conducting standard literature reviews can be found here.

Note: some hyperlinked resources are provided by Queen's University Library and may not be available to non-affiliates. Queen's affiliates viewing this guide from off-site may need to login via off-campus access to open resources and view full-text articles.

 Content on this guide can be reused under the BY-NC-SA Creative Commons license. 

Definition of Syntheses

The terms synthesis and research review are often used interchangeably. The Canadian Institutes of Health Research defines synthesis as

“[T]he 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 and may synthesize qualitative or quantitative results.

Types of Syntheses

When systematic reviews were the first type of synthesis to appear in the health care literature back in the 1970s, the main objective was to synthesize quantitative research studies. Limitations of traditional systematic reviews and meta-analyses led to the adaptation of syntheses to include:

  • qualitative systematic reviews
  • mixed-methods reviews
  • rapid reviews
  • network meta-analyses
  • scoping reviews
  • realist reviews
  • and more.

While many syntheses begin with a clear question, their methodologies and the types of research evidence synthesized to answer the question can be quite different. Check out the "What Review is Right for You?" tool from the Knowledge Translation Program (see more information here).

Deciding what type of synthesis to conduct

To help determine the most appropriate type of synthesis for your research question and purpose, you may find it helpful to consult the following articles.


Grant, M. J., & Booth, A. (2009). A typology of reviews: an analysis of 14 review types and associated methodologies. Health Information & Libraries Journal, 26(2), 91-108.
Grimshaw, J. (2010). A guide to knowledge synthesis: A knowledge synthesis chapter. Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

Kastner, M., Antony, J., Soobiah, C., Straus, S. E., & Tricco, A. C. (2016). Conceptual recommendations for selecting the most appropriate knowledge synthesis method to answer research questions related to complex evidence. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology, 73, 43-49.

Mays, N., Roberts, E., & Popay, J. (2001). Synthesising research evidence. Studying the Organisation and Delivery of Health Services: Research Methods, 188-220.

Moher D., Stewart L. & Shekelle P. (2015). All in the family: systematic reviews, rapid reviews, scoping reviews, realist reviews, and more. Syst Rev, 4(1):1-2.