Western Libraries

Knowledge Synthesis: Systematic & Scoping Reviews

Systematic Reviews in the Social Sciences

Systematic literature reviews are becoming part of the research landscape as policymakers increasingly turn to an evidence base for decision making (Petticrew & Roberts, 2006).

Systematic reviews in the area of Social Sciences, Humanities and Law are similar to those carried out in the area of Health and Life Sciences in that they are a valuable means of reviewing all the available evidence on whether a particular intervention is effective.  

Differences between systematic reviews in Health and Social Sciences

Adapted from: Bath University Systematic Reviews. Available at: https://library.bath.ac.uk/systematic-reviews. (Accessed: 28 May 2020)


Social Sciences

Months or years to produces

Weeks or months to produce

Answers a well defined and focused question

Answers a well defined and focused question

Includes a written protocol (a reasoned plan for the entire review process)

Involves a detailed search strategy

Searches for all published and unpublished literature on a topic

Searches for published literature on a topic

Systematically assesses the quality and potential bias of all available evidence

Critically summarises the literature

Records and writes up details of all databases searched, search terms used and numbers of results

Records details of databases searched, search terms used and numbers of results

Synthesises all findings and meta-analysis all data


Makes recommendations for professional practice


Involves 3 or more people to eliminate bias

Usually involves 1 person so open to bias



If you've never participated in a systematic review, reading reviews from your discipline can be helpful. Here are a few examples from various Social Science disciplines.

Adams, Jeanrenaud, S., Bessant, J., Denyer, D., & Overy, P. (2016). Sustainability-oriented Innovation: A Systematic Review. International Journal of Management Reviews: IJMR, 18(2), 180–205. 

Barth, & de Jong, M. D. . (2017). The privacy paradox – Investigating discrepancies between expressed privacy concerns and actual online behavior – A systematic literature review. Telematics and Informatics, 34(7), 1038–1058. 

Castano, Fontanil, Y., & Garcia-Izquierdo, A. L. (2019). “Why Can’t I Become a Manager?”A Systematic Review of Gender Stereotypes and Organizational Discrimination. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 16(10), 1813–.

Dear, Dutton, K., & Fox, E. (2019). Do “watching eyes” influence antisocial behavior? A systematic review & meta-analysis. Evolution and Human Behavior, 40(3), 269–280. 

Eira Nunes, Roten, Y., El Ghaziri, N., Favez, N., & Darwiche, J. (2021). CoParenting Programs: A Systematic Review and MetaAnalysis. Family Relations, 70(3), 759–776. 

Meijer, Röhl, J., Bloomfield, K., & Grittner, U. (2012). Do neighborhoods affect individual mortality? A systematic review and meta-analysis of multilevel studies. Social Science & Medicine (1982), 74(8), 1204–1212. 

Minasyan, Zenker, J., Klasen, S., & Vollmer, S. (2019). Educational gender gaps and economic growth: A systematic review and meta-regression analysis. World Development, 122, 199–217. 

Nabi, Linan, F., Fayolle, A., Krueger, N., & Walmsley, A. (2017). The Impact of Entrepreneurship Education in Higher Education: A Systematic Review and Research Agenda. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 16(2), 277–299. 

Nef, Ganea, R. L., Müri, R. M., & Mosimann, U. P. (2013). Social networking sites and older users – a systematic review. International Psychogeriatrics, 25(7), 1041–1053. 

Chapman, Karen (2021). Characteristics of systematic reviews in the social sciences. Journal of Academic Librarianship,  Vol.47 (5), p.102396