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Music Therapy

Guide for students studying Music Therapy at the University of Melbourne.

Systematic and Literature Reviews

What are Systematic Reviews?

Literature reviews are important for:

  • establishing the theoretical background and context of primary research,
  • conducting secondary research through meta-analysis or one of the types of qualitative synthesis.

Refer to the Literature Reviews guide.

Systematic literature reviews are comprehensive and replicable. You will need to:

  • identify the types and scope of resources to be covered, including date range and geographic extent
  • select the databases or other indices to be used
  • set out the search terms and strategies likely to be useful, and use them consistently
  • perhaps scope the search by recording additional terms and subject headings found in initial results before finalising the search strategy
  • possibly exclude some studies from the review, documenting these and the reasons for exclusion

A systematic review can summarise and critique research findings from a number of possible perspectives.

You may find the following readings helpful:


Meta-analysis (use of statistical techniques for combining and summarising quantitative results from controlled clinical trials)

There are many books and e-books in the collection with the subject terms Meta-analysis or Evidence-based medicine.

e.g. Higgins, Julian P. T.(2008). Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions [electronic resource]. Hoboken : John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. For an updated version see

Narrative synthesis (a qualitative method identifying major studies in a field, reviewing the main themes and summarising findings)

Critical interpretive synthesis (a method for synthesising a diverse body of evidence to generate and test theory, different from the more traditional aggregative synthesis)

Realist synthesis  (a mid-range theoretical approach between positivism and constructivism, unpacking contexts, mechanisms and outcomes of primary studies)

Best-fit framework synthesis (an iterative approach suited to policy questions)

Knowledge synthesis (potential for generating new knowledge through extrapolation or interpolation of information sourced through systematic review)

A summary of critical appraisal tools is found in the International Centre for Allied Health Evidence pages.

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