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Conducting Rapid Reviews

What is a rapid review?

Rapid reviews are literature reviews done with the same methods used for systematic reviews. In comparison to a systematic review, it would be as rigorous and transparent, but conducted in an accelerated way and with fewer resources.

According to the National Collaborating Centre for Methods and Tools, "The demand for rapid reviews may be driven by:

  • clinical urgency;
  • demands for uptake of new technology;
  • limited time/resources."

Rapid reviews are often compared to systematic reviews, but they are also related to health technology assessments (HTAs), scoping studies and question scans.

How long does it take to complete a rapid review? 

It can take from 3 weeks to up to 6 months to do a rapid review. In comparison, a reasonable time frame for a systematic review is rarely under one year.

How can rapid reviews be completed so fast and with fewer resources than systematic reviews if they use the same methods?

Rapid reviews can be completed more quickly because they would not go through every step required for a systematic review. For example, you could

  • skip the grey literature part;
  • limit the searching process to a restricted number of databases, or to a specific date range or language;
  • skip the hand searching part;
  • don’t use an iterative process (don’t go back and forth in the searching process, e.g. don't revise the keywords of your search strategy after looking at articles that were retrieved).

What about the reliability of the results?

While rapid reviews are fairly recent, it is believed that the quality of the results compares with those of systematic reviews. The additional value of systematic reviews is in the depth of the information included and the subsequent more detailed recommendations. Also the extensive process of a systematic review makes it more likely to be unbiased.

Why should you do a rapid review instead of a systematic review?

You should consider doing a rapid review if

  • you have a short time frame to complete a project
  • you have a small team or are the only one working on the project
  • you need evidence quickly
  • you look at the requirements to do a systematic review and you know that you will have to do concessions to complete one
  • you estimate that a rapid review is the best method to get the results that you need


Rapid Reviews: Methods and Implications (National Collaborating Centre for Methods and Tools)
Rapid Reviews (HLWiki Canada)
Rapid versus Systematic Reviews: an Inventory of Current Methods and Practice in Health Technology Assessment
(2007, Australian Safety & Efficacy Register of New Interventional Procedures - Surgical of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons)
Rapid Evidence Assessment Toolkit (Civil Service of the United Kingdom, archived version)


(Click title to access full text)

* Some articles may be restricted to McGill users. If you cannot access an article, please fill in the form to ask for an interlibrary loan.

Ganann , Rebecca et al.
Expediting Systematic Reviews: Methods and Implications of Rapid Reviews. Implementation Science. 2010; 5(56).

Grant, Maria G. and Andrew Booth.
A typology of reviews: an analysis of 14 review types and associated methodologies. Health Information & Libraries Journal. 2009; 26(2): 91-108.

Harker, Julie and Jos Kleijnen. What is a rapid review? A methodological exploration of rapid reviews in Health Technology Assessments. International Journal of Evidence-Based Healthcare. 2012; 10(4): 397-410. (McGill users or interlibrary loan)

Khangura, Sara et al. Rapid Review: an emerging approach to evidence synthesis in health technology assessment. Journal of Technology Assessment in Health Care. 2014; 3(1): 20-27.

, Sara et al. Evidence summaries: the evolution of a rapid review approach. Systematic Reviews. 2012; 1(10).

Thomas, James; Newman, Mark and Sandy Oliver. Rapid evidence assessments of research to inform social policy: taking stock and moving forward. Evidence & Policy: A Journal of Research, Debate & Practice. 2013; 9(1): 5-27.
(McGill users or interlibrary loan)

Watt, Amber et al. 
Rapid versus full systematic reviews: validity in clinical practice?. ANZ Journal of Surgery. 2008; 78(11): 1037-1040.

Watt , Amber et al.
Rapid reviews versus full systematic reviews: An inventory of current methods and practice in health technology assessment. International Journal of Technology Assessment in Health Care. 2008; 24(2):133–139.

Page created March 25 2014, updated September 8 2016