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Criminology - Systematic review

What is a systematic review?

The aim of a systematic literature review is to give an overview of what research has been done in a particular field. To do this, researchers gather and carefully study previous peer review articles using a specific method. This method helps in searching for, choosing, presenting, and analyzing research to answer a specific research question. Through a systematic literature review, researchers can see where there is consensus or disagreement among studies, and also pinpoint areas where more research is needed.

More about peer review articles

Process of the literature review

Despite differences in the process of conducting various types of reviews, all reviews share the following eight steps:

  1. Formulating the research problem
  2. Developing and validating the review protocol
  3. Searching the literature
  4. Screening for inclusion
  5. Assessing quality
  6. Extracting data
  7. Analyzing and synthesizing data
  8. Reporting the findings

(Xiao & Watson, 2019)

Typology of systematic reviews

Systematic reviews can be categorized by the purpose for the review. Xiao and Watson group literature reviews into four different categories: describe, test, extend and critique.


A systematic review that aims to describe and synthesize the included studies. Doesn't seek to analyze or otherwise expand upon the data extracted from the  included studies.


A systematic review that aims to test a hypothesis or answer a specific research question. A testing systematic review of quantitative literature uses statistical analysis, which is called a meta analysis.


A systematic review that extends and goes beyond summarizing the included studies. Seek to analyze and attempts to expand upon the included studies to create new higher order constructs.


A systematic review that aims to compare the included studies against a predefined set of criteria. Studies are not synthesized with respect to each other but rather against the predefined criteria. For example a systematic review examining the reporting practices for included systematic reviews, which then can be compared to a set of recommendations or standards for the reporting of systematic reviews.

Xiao Y, Watson M, (2019) Guidance on Conducting a Systematic Literature Review. Journal of Planning Education and Research, 39(1), 93–112. 19p.

How to use this guide

This guide describes and provides tips on how to plan, conduct, and report your systematic searches. With a focus on searches, this guide includes tips on databases, search techniques, and strategies for documenting your process. In your course literature, you will find more comprehensive insights into all aspects of a systematic review.

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