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Knowledge Synthesis & Systematic Reviews

What is a Narrative Review?

A narrative review (sometimes refered to as a literature review) is a summmary account of what has been published on a given topic, written primarily by researchers working in the topic area. These reviews illustrate what knowledge and ideas have been established, what the strengths and weaknesses of these ideas are, and identify controversies in the literature. Literature reviews may also formulate questions for further research and inquiry.

When conducting a narrative review, it is important to have a clearly defined research question or problem. Some important considerations while planning a narrative review include:

  • Will you be looking at issues of theory, methodology, policy, or something else?
  • What type of analysis is appropriate for your topic?
  • How do you plan to present your findings: based on chronology, concept, or theme?
  • Are there “key works” that might help guide or inform your review?

The requirements for literature searching for narrative reviews are less stringent than for other types of reviews (Grant & Booth, 2009).  Finding and analyzing everything ever produced on the topic is not required, and the "level of evidence" of the selected materials may be less important than with other types of reviews.

Recommended Resources


Grant, M. & Booth, A. (2009). A typology of reviews: an analysis of 14 review types and associated methodologiesHealth Information and Libraries Journal, 26(2), 91-108. DOI: 10.1111/j.1471-1842.2009.00848.x

National Center for Biotechnology Information. Review Literature as Topic. 2005. Available from: (accessed March 31 2017).