The value of traditional reviews in the era of systematic reviewing

Am J Phys Med Rehabil. 2009 May;88(5):423-30. doi: 10.1097/phm.0b013e31819c59c6.


Reviews offer examinations of published material on a topic, and are becoming indispensable in keeping up with an exponentially growing rehabilitation literature. Adherents of the systematic reviews that support evidence-based practice have been quite dismissive of narrative (traditional, qualitative, and nonsystematic) reviews. However, the types of problems that plague the latter may also be found in systematic reviews, which, in addition, have problems of their own. It is argued here that reviews play a number of roles in scientific research and professional practice such as answering specific clinical questions, pooling data, comparing research, synthesizing complementary studies, offering guidance in uncharted fields, and "translating" research between disciplinary traditions. For some of these purposes, systematic reviews are better; for others, a narrative review is more suitable. Both types can be improved to serve the reader better in keeping up with the literature.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Humans
  • Review Literature as Topic*