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Knowledge Synthesis & Systematic Reviews

What is an Umbrella Review?

An umbrella review compiles all of the evidence from published reviews on a topic to give a high level overview. Like other types of reviews, the aim of an umbrella review is to determine what is known on a topic, what remains unknown, and make recommendations on further research. An umbrella review is commonly conducted when there are multiple competing interventions for a condition and an overview about each of these interventions can be useful in determining how to best translate the evidence into practice.

As the name implies, reviews of varying types are included in an umbrella review but individual primary studies are not. The quality assessment of included review can be broken into two parts:

  1. an assessment of the methodology of the review and (or)
  2. an assssment of the primary studies that were included in the review.

Literature searching is a critical part of conducting reviews and errors made in the search process can result in biased or incomplete evidence. Researchers conducting an umbrella review shoudl have a sense of the literature in the field, including knowledge of key works on the topic and specialized terminology. Information about included studies in an umbrella review are often displayed in a table. A narrative commentary explains the results and key points about each of the reviews and how the evidence is interpreted to guide practice.


Recommended Readings


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