What is the difference between systematic review and critical review?

By on December 26, 2018
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The systematic review intends to find out the appropriate answers to the questions that have been developed in accordance with the research problem in a study. Thus, in accomplishing this objective, scholars implementing systematic review simply collect and present all the relevant scholarly evidence that confers the eligibility criteria of an academic study.

On the other hand, the function of the critical review is to make a critical assessment of a research idea proposed in a study by comparing various scholarly studies that have been already undertaken on the subject. Basically, the critical review presents the perspective of the researcher regarding a study based on what he already knows and what has been further understood from a critical analysis of the selected empirical information related to the topic.


The specific applicability of systematic review is in those fields of study where lots of previous works have been made and data have got generated as a consequence. Thus, in such situations, the significance of a systematic review is to precisely consolidate and define the subject of study by examining and generating an exhaustive list of most recent empirical works on the subject.
Critical review, on the other hand, is applied in those fields of study where detailed discussion on a specific topic of research has to be made to generate a precise and accurate conclusion to the research problem. Thus, both explicit and implicit evaluations of all the empirical studies that have already been done on the research problem under scrutiny have to be done for the purpose to streamline the findings.


The process that is implemented for carrying out a systematic review starts from framing the specific question related to the research topic around which empirical data have to be collected. Then, the most relevant works on the research questions have to be identified and collected as per their point of relevancy. Next is the assessment of the quality of the collected empirical sources is made based on:

  • their relevancy,
  • recentness,
  • amount of data present in the sources that are related to the topic of study and
  • quality of references used.

Furthermore, the research conclusions drawn from such empirical sources are summarized. Finally, present the interpretations of the consolidated findings to generate answers to the research questions.

Process of systematic review
The process of systematic review

When a researcher intends to implement a critical review, the main argument that is being projected is focused upon. Therefore, the main areas of the argument and the main idea that have been presented are identified. Then research on other empirical works that focus on this central idea of the research at hand is identified. Furthermore, the relevancy of these collected works with the research are assessed by emphasizing their:

  • recentness,
  • quality of references used and,
  • relevancy with the research at hand.

Here it should be noted that in critical review, the type of data that the selected empirical sources offer is a cardinal criterion for streamlining the sources. Moreover, a comparison of the scholarly comments present in these empirical sources is analyzed from various standpoints so that a critical study of the research topic can be done. Finally, the perspectives of the researcher are compared with the information gathered from the critical review of the scholarly sources to draw a final conclusion about the research topic.

Process of critical review
The process of critical review

How to select an appropriate type of review method?

When the topic of research is extensive and broad and lots of previously available empirical data enhance the extensiveness of such a research topic, even more, a need is felt to implement a systematic review to consolidate the findings. Say, for example, a study is undertaken on the prevention of obesity during childhood. Since there are lots of previously encoded empirical data on the topic, it becomes essential for the researcher to consolidate the sources based on their relevance, recentness and quality of data present in these sources. On the other hand, when the research topic becomes more focused and aims at finding out if the dietary regime followed by children during childhood has any relation to childhood obesity then a critical review of various scholarly sources has to be made. This is because critical review at this stage gives the researchers the necessary information that helps in understating if dietary regime during childhood can really be established as a factor influencing childhood obesity.

Tabular presentation of the systematic review and critical review

Systematic review
Critical review
Types of studies
Used in studies that cover broader topics like child obesity, primary healthcare, and so on.Used in studies that are much focused on nature like the role of diet in child obesity, the significance of hospital infrastructure in primary healthcare, etc.
The systematic review is generally arranged in a chronological manner based on the date of publication.  But no comparison of one source with the other is made.The critical review is arranged in descending order based on their date of publication. Nevertheless, a focal point of one empirical source is found and then compared with the one that appears next in order to estimate the similarities and differences in the perspectives of the scholars.
The systematic review is ideal for research topics that are broader in nature and have been studied from that broader perspective by many scholars.The critical review is applicable in studies where there are contradictory views of different scholars on a particular research topic.
A researcher must always select the most recent sources for conducting a systematic review of a topicThe selection of sources for critical review must be such that they cover a long span of time to show how the research topic has improvised and become precise over time. Moreover, each of the sources should be critically reviewed.
A researcher is not supposed to compare and contrast empirical studies that have been referenced in a researchA researcher cannot present sources randomly one after the other in the critical review instead of making the critical estimation.
Importance and relevance
The systematic review is important in creating a database on a topic of research by consolidating the most significant and most recent sources.The critical review is ideal for deriving at a conclusion when the research topic is focused on nature and subjected to debatable perspectives of different scholars.


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