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Reviews: From Systematic to Narrative: Review By Objective

Definitions and Examples

There are a variety of reviews classified by their objective.  The Integrative Review of Research has the ability to include both qualitative and quantitative studies.  The Theoretical Review's goal is to describe how theory shapes research in a particular field.  The Methodological Review describes the different research designs, methods and procedures used.  The Thematic Review, as its name implies, describes a particular area of the researcher's field and can be a comparative study analyzing one specific domain.  The State-of-the-Art Review summarizes the most current research in a given area or topic.  The Historical Review surveys the development of a particular field of study.  The Comparison of two Perspectives Review provides a way to understand a given topic based on the literature from two or more disciplines.  Finally, the Review Complement is a full review on a topic that also includes a short empirical study that investigates the outcomes of the review.  For this guide, only the Integrative Review of Research will be described in detail since it is the one most used in the health sciences disciplines.

Integrative Review of Research (IRR) pulls together the existing work on a topic and works to understand trends in that body of scholarship. In such a review, the author describes how the issue is conceptualized within the literature, how research methods and theories have shaped the outcomes of scholarship, and what the strengths and weaknesses of the literature are. Meta-analyses are of particular interest when they are accompanied by an interpretive framework that takes the article beyond the reporting of effect sizes and the bibliographic outcome of a computer search. Most IRRs occur when the original meta-analysis does not have sufficient studies for the statistical analysis to be valid.  When written and reported correctly, on a relevant clinical topic, the IRR can have a direct impact on the quality of patient care.

 The following chart provides a brief comparison of the three major types of formal or rigorous reviews.


Systematic Review




“…research article that identifies relevant studies, appraises their quality and summarizes their results using scientific methodology.” (Khan, 2003)

“…a mathematical synthesis of the results….” (Greenhalgh, 1997)

“…a narrative account of information that is already currently available…” (Jesson & Lacey, 2006)

Method of Analysis

Data is abstracted in a standardized format. (Center for Outcomes Research and Education)

Statistical equations are used to synthesize data.

Narrative is used to discuss implications of findings in the current literature.

Searching Technique

Expert and reproducible search techniques applied to databases, print journals and indexes, current studies, experts, and grey literature.

Expert and reproducible search techniques applied to databases, print journals and indexes, current studies, experts, and grey literature.

Expert search techniques applied to applicable databases and search engines.

Integrative Review PDF

Definitions of what an integrative review is, decisions to be made, and the steps to follow.

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