Defining Rapid Reviews: a systematic scoping review and thematic analysis of definitions and defining characteristics of rapid reviews

11 September, 2021

Dear HIFA colleagues,

Rapid reviews are widely seen as an important, pragmatic method for evidence synthesis, but the term has multiple meanings. This 'scoping review of definitions of rapid reviews' attempts to look into the range of definitions - and proposes a new one!

CITATION: Defining Rapid Reviews: a systematic scoping review and thematic analysis of definitions and defining characteristics of rapid reviews

Candyce Hamel et al. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology. [restricted access]


Background and Objective: Rapid reviews were first mentioned in the literature in 1997, when Best et al. described the rapid health technology assessment program in the south and west regions of England but did not provide a formal definition. More recently, the only consensus around a rapid review definition is that a formal definition does not exist. The primary aim of this work is to create a repository of existing definitions and to identify key themes, which may help the knowledge synthesis community in defining rapid review products.

Methods: A systematic scoping review was performed to identify definitions used in journal-published rapid reviews written in English between 2017 and January 2019. We searched Medline, Embase Classic + Embase, PsycINFO, ERIC, Cochrane Library, CINAHL, and Web of Science on December 21, 2018. Two reviewers performed study selection and data extraction using a priori–defined methods published in a protocol. Definitions from rapid review methods articles (published from 1997 onward) identified in another scoping review were added to the results, and all definitions were thematically analyzed using NVivo. A quantitative analysis was also performed around studies cited.

Results: Definitions from 216 rapid reviews and 90 rapid review methods articles were included in the thematic analysis. Eight key themes were identified: accelerated/rapid process or approach, variation in methods shortcuts, focus/depth/breadth of scope, compare and contrast to a full traditional systematic review, stakeholder rationale, resource efficiency rationale, systematic approach, bias/limitations. Secondary referencing was a common occurrence.

Conclusion: Thematic analysis performed in this systematic scoping review has allowed for the creation of a suggested definition for rapid reviews that can be used to inform the systematic review community.

COMMENT (NPW): Here is the new proposed definition (introduced by the authors in the full text):


As there is not one common set of methods shortcuts that can be taken when conducting an RR, there may not be one common definition for an RR. As such, we suggest the following broad definition, which meets a minimum set of requirements identified in the thematic analysis, which will also be used to seek further consensus from the systematic review community.

“A rapid review is a form of knowledge synthesis that accelerates the process of conducting a traditional systematic review through streamlining or omitting a variety of methods to produce evidence in a resource-efficient manner.”


Neil Pakenham-Walsh, HIFA Coordinator,