Reviewing the animal literature: how to describe and choose between different types of literature reviews

Lab Anim. 2021 Apr;55(2):129-141. doi: 10.1177/0023677220968599. Epub 2020 Nov 1.


Before starting any (animal) research project, review of the existing literature is good practice. From both the scientific and the ethical perspective, high-quality literature reviews are essential. Literature reviews have many potential advantages besides synthesising the evidence for a research question. First, they can show if a proposed study has already been performed, preventing redundant research. Second, when planning new experiments, reviews can inform the experimental design, thereby increasing the reliability, relevance and efficiency of the study. Third, reviews may even answer research questions using already available data. Multiple definitions of the term literature review co-exist. In this paper, we describe the different steps in the review process, and the risks and benefits of using various methodologies in each step. We then suggest common terminology for different review types: narrative reviews, mapping reviews, scoping reviews, rapid reviews, systematic reviews and umbrella reviews. We recommend which review to select, depending on the research question and available resources. We believe that improved understanding of review methods and terminology will prevent ambiguity and increase appropriate interpretation of the conclusions of reviews.

Keywords: Narrative review; mapping review; rapid review; scoping review; systematic review; umbrella review.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Laboratory*
  • Laboratory Animal Science / statistics & numerical data*
  • Review Literature as Topic