HILJ Club: This edition of HILJ club has been prepared by:  Morag Clarkson, Library Services Manager, Croydon Health Services NHS Trust @moragclarkson

The paper for discussion is Sutton, A., Clowes, M., Preston, L., Booth, A. (2019)  Meeting the review family: exploring review types and associated information retrieval requirements Health Information & Libraries Journal, 36, pp. 202–222

DOI: 10.1111/hir.12276 (Free Access thanks to Wiley till Feb 2020)


The authors discuss the fast moving and expanding field of different types of review article, in addition to the perhaps familiar to most, systematic review. This illustrates the literature review’s wider and changing role in evidence- based decision- making as more than just a tool to map research.

These different review types require a systematised, reproducible approach, yet there is room for confusion about information retrieval search methods for the differing “families” of reviews, which have been divided by the authors into “seven families of reviews”. The importance of using consistent terminology is stressed.

The reviews do require specific details about information retrieval methods.

However, this is often generic.

It is suggested that information specialists should become more familiar with different review methodologies and search methods as part of their skill set, in order to suggest suitable approaches for user needs.  The value of iterative searching is also explored.

The extended roles for information specialists in the review process are discussed and the benefits are highlighted.

The article briefly charts the rise of the systematic review and its role to minimise bias.


To classify and characterise review types and their information retrieval requirements.


The authors are methodological experts and draw on regular citation searching and alerts to document review types and typologies, as well as on their experience and professional reading.

The authors identified available guidance on information retrieval for the included review types.


Forty-eight distinct review types were identified.

These review types were categorised into seven broad review ‘families’: traditional reviews, systematic reviews, review of reviews, rapid reviews, qualitative reviews, mixed method reviews and purpose specific reviews.

Definitions are given of each review type and the seven review families are discussed in relation to the search methodologies used for each type. For example, the authors highlight the lack of guidance around grey literature searching with only some review types specifically naming sources to search.

As they progress through the descriptions of their retrieval methods for the different types of reviews they discuss, they also define the use of filters (e.g. keywords to find qualitative, quantitative, research and other types of studies) as well as searching for generic terms and topic searches.


The authors highlight that not every review typology is categorised in this article, e.g. “evidence briefs” are excluded. They give an overview of other published typologies.

They discuss the confusion that can stem from the different types of reviews which do not have recognised guidance.

Search filters can be prove problematic and the authors offer some ways forward to improve performance.

Data mining and automation as a tool to filtering during the review process is discussed as well as use of non-automated tools.

New roles for the information specialist are highlighted.


Consistency is required in relation to guidance for and identification of review types.

Information specialists can advise on search methodologies as part of the review team.


Questions for discussion


What do you think of this article?

This is a useful article, highlighting what I have seen myself in my professional practice, namely the proliferation of review types and the subsequent requirements to search in different ways in order to get the best search results.

What do you think of the research methods?

As the field is new and fast moving I think that the research methods made the best use of expertise. The articles does reference other typologies. The authors discuss the limits of their study which does not include reviewing the quality of the methodological guidance .

Is there something else that you would have liked to have seen included in the article?

The authors allude to how things work in other disciplines (e.g. social sciences) but some further examples would have been useful.

So what?

Would you specifically incorporate different review types searching in practice?

Due to demand for this, yes I would develop my practice to look at searching for different review types. Health library users appear to be asked to write, review, synthesise, appraise and discuss literature using new methodologies, which are not always clear or familiar to the user.

It is only after discussion with the user that the correct course of action can be embarked upon to support them with the correct retrieval methodology. In my practice, prior to two recent reference interviews, systematic reviews were requested by end users.  Following a discussion with the end users their requirement was in fact for a different type of review to that which was initially requested.

Would you use different information retrieval methods?

Confusion is common around search methodologies amongst end users and information specialists.

I agree that a consistent approach is required with quality assurance from a central agency.

The imminent publication of The London, Kent, Surrey and Sussex Regional Searching Protocol is very timely, offering consistent searching protocols across the region. This (and other tools) can be developed to include more types of searching guidance.

Now what?  

Will you change your practice as a result of reading this article? If so, how? If not, why not?

I am already changing my practice to incorporate new knowledge and awareness of the searching needs of my end users.  Artificial Intelligence (AI) and data mining, as referred to in the article, must be an area for further discussion and consideration. The Topol Review has introduced us to how technology is likely to change the roles and functions of clinical staff and by so, by association, the role of health information specialists both within the review team, and in other roles.

The frequency of seeing lots of different types of review may be limited for some searchers. Searching can be an isolating task, so sharing best practice and consistency is positive 

Forums such as the London Searching and Training Forum (LSTF) and the Kent,  Surrey and Sussex Searching and Training Forum provide opportunities for discussion, collaboration and, systematised approaches to protocols and training.