Literature Review: Types of literature reviews
- Traditional or narrative literature reviews
- Scoping Reviews
- Systematic literature reviews
- Annotated bibliography
- Keeping up to date with literature
- Finding a thesis
- Evaluating sources and critical appraisal of literature
- Managing and analysing your literature
- Further reading and resources
Types of literature reviews
The type of literature review you write will depend on your discipline and whether you are a researcher writing your PhD, publishing a study in a journal or completing an assessment task in your undergraduate study.
A literature review for a subject in an undergraduate degree will not be as comprehensive as the literature review required for a PhD thesis.
An undergraduate literature review may be in the form of an annotated bibliography or a narrative review of a small selection of literature, for example ten relevant articles. If you are asked to write a literature review, and you are an undergraduate student, be guided by your subject coordinator or lecturer.
The common types of literature reviews will be explained in the pages of this section.
- Narrative or traditional literature reviews
- Critically Appraised Topic (CAT)
- Scoping reviews
- Annotated bibliographies
These are not the only types of reviews of literature that can be conducted. Often the term "review" and "literature" can be confusing and used in the wrong context. Grant and Booth (2009) attempt to clear up this confusion by discussing 14 review types and the associated methodology, and advantages and disadvantages associated with each review.
Grant, M. J. and Booth, A. (2009), A typology of reviews: an analysis of 14 review types and associated methodologies . Health Information & Libraries Journal, 26 , 91–108. doi:10.1111/j.1471-1842.2009.00848.x
What's the difference between reviews?
Researchers, academics, and librarians all use various terms to describe different types of literature reviews, and there is often inconsistency in the ways the types are discussed. Here are a couple of simple explanations.
- The image below describes common review types in terms of speed, detail, risk of bias, and comprehensiveness:
"Schematic of the main differences between the types of literature review" by Brennan, M. L., Arlt, S. P., Belshaw, Z., Buckley, L., Corah, L., Doit, H., Fajt, V. R., Grindlay, D., Moberly, H. K., Morrow, L. D., Stavisky, J., & White, C. (2020). Critically Appraised Topics (CATs) in veterinary medicine: Applying evidence in clinical practice. Frontiers in Veterinary Science, 7 , 314. https://doi.org/10.3389/fvets.2020.00314 is licensed under CC BY 3.0
- The table below lists four of the most common types of review , as adapted from a widely used typology of fourteen types of reviews (Grant & Booth, 2009).
Grant, M.J. & Booth, A. (2009). A typology of reviews: An analysis of 14 review types and associated methodologies. Health Information & Libraries Journal, 26 (2), 91-108. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1471-1842.2009.00848.x
See also the Library's Literature Review guide.
Critical Appraised Topic (CAT)
For information on conducting a Critically Appraised Topic or CAT
Callander, J., Anstey, A. V., Ingram, J. R., Limpens, J., Flohr, C., & Spuls, P. I. (2017). How to write a Critically Appraised Topic: evidence to underpin routine clinical practice. British Journal of Dermatology (1951), 177(4), 1007-1013. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjd.15873
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- How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates
How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates
Published on January 2, 2023 by Shona McCombes . Revised on September 11, 2023.
What is a literature review? A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources on a specific topic. It provides an overview of current knowledge, allowing you to identify relevant theories, methods, and gaps in the existing research that you can later apply to your paper, thesis, or dissertation topic .
There are five key steps to writing a literature review:
- Search for relevant literature
- Evaluate sources
- Identify themes, debates, and gaps
- Outline the structure
- Write your literature review
A good literature review doesn’t just summarize sources—it analyzes, synthesizes , and critically evaluates to give a clear picture of the state of knowledge on the subject.
Table of contents
What is the purpose of a literature review, examples of literature reviews, step 1 – search for relevant literature, step 2 – evaluate and select sources, step 3 – identify themes, debates, and gaps, step 4 – outline your literature review’s structure, step 5 – write your literature review, free lecture slides, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions, introduction.
- Quick Run-through
- Step 1 & 2
When you write a thesis , dissertation , or research paper , you will likely have to conduct a literature review to situate your research within existing knowledge. The literature review gives you a chance to:
- Demonstrate your familiarity with the topic and its scholarly context
- Develop a theoretical framework and methodology for your research
- Position your work in relation to other researchers and theorists
- Show how your research addresses a gap or contributes to a debate
- Evaluate the current state of research and demonstrate your knowledge of the scholarly debates around your topic.
Writing literature reviews is a particularly important skill if you want to apply for graduate school or pursue a career in research. We’ve written a step-by-step guide that you can follow below.
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Writing literature reviews can be quite challenging! A good starting point could be to look at some examples, depending on what kind of literature review you’d like to write.
- Example literature review #1: “Why Do People Migrate? A Review of the Theoretical Literature” ( Theoretical literature review about the development of economic migration theory from the 1950s to today.)
- Example literature review #2: “Literature review as a research methodology: An overview and guidelines” ( Methodological literature review about interdisciplinary knowledge acquisition and production.)
- Example literature review #3: “The Use of Technology in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Thematic literature review about the effects of technology on language acquisition.)
- Example literature review #4: “Learners’ Listening Comprehension Difficulties in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Chronological literature review about how the concept of listening skills has changed over time.)
You can also check out our templates with literature review examples and sample outlines at the links below.
Download Word doc Download Google doc
Before you begin searching for literature, you need a clearly defined topic .
If you are writing the literature review section of a dissertation or research paper, you will search for literature related to your research problem and questions .
Make a list of keywords
Start by creating a list of keywords related to your research question. Include each of the key concepts or variables you’re interested in, and list any synonyms and related terms. You can add to this list as you discover new keywords in the process of your literature search.
- Social media, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok
- Body image, self-perception, self-esteem, mental health
- Generation Z, teenagers, adolescents, youth
Search for relevant sources
Use your keywords to begin searching for sources. Some useful databases to search for journals and articles include:
- Your university’s library catalogue
- Google Scholar
- Project Muse (humanities and social sciences)
- Medline (life sciences and biomedicine)
- EconLit (economics)
- Inspec (physics, engineering and computer science)
You can also use boolean operators to help narrow down your search.
Make sure to read the abstract to find out whether an article is relevant to your question. When you find a useful book or article, you can check the bibliography to find other relevant sources.
You likely won’t be able to read absolutely everything that has been written on your topic, so it will be necessary to evaluate which sources are most relevant to your research question.
For each publication, ask yourself:
- What question or problem is the author addressing?
- What are the key concepts and how are they defined?
- What are the key theories, models, and methods?
- Does the research use established frameworks or take an innovative approach?
- What are the results and conclusions of the study?
- How does the publication relate to other literature in the field? Does it confirm, add to, or challenge established knowledge?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of the research?
Make sure the sources you use are credible , and make sure you read any landmark studies and major theories in your field of research.
You can use our template to summarize and evaluate sources you’re thinking about using. Click on either button below to download.
Take notes and cite your sources
As you read, you should also begin the writing process. Take notes that you can later incorporate into the text of your literature review.
It is important to keep track of your sources with citations to avoid plagiarism . It can be helpful to make an annotated bibliography , where you compile full citation information and write a paragraph of summary and analysis for each source. This helps you remember what you read and saves time later in the process.
To begin organizing your literature review’s argument and structure, be sure you understand the connections and relationships between the sources you’ve read. Based on your reading and notes, you can look for:
- Trends and patterns (in theory, method or results): do certain approaches become more or less popular over time?
- Themes: what questions or concepts recur across the literature?
- Debates, conflicts and contradictions: where do sources disagree?
- Pivotal publications: are there any influential theories or studies that changed the direction of the field?
- Gaps: what is missing from the literature? Are there weaknesses that need to be addressed?
This step will help you work out the structure of your literature review and (if applicable) show how your own research will contribute to existing knowledge.
- Most research has focused on young women.
- There is an increasing interest in the visual aspects of social media.
- But there is still a lack of robust research on highly visual platforms like Instagram and Snapchat—this is a gap that you could address in your own research.
There are various approaches to organizing the body of a literature review. Depending on the length of your literature review, you can combine several of these strategies (for example, your overall structure might be thematic, but each theme is discussed chronologically).
The simplest approach is to trace the development of the topic over time. However, if you choose this strategy, be careful to avoid simply listing and summarizing sources in order.
Try to analyze patterns, turning points and key debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred.
If you have found some recurring central themes, you can organize your literature review into subsections that address different aspects of the topic.
For example, if you are reviewing literature about inequalities in migrant health outcomes, key themes might include healthcare policy, language barriers, cultural attitudes, legal status, and economic access.
If you draw your sources from different disciplines or fields that use a variety of research methods , you might want to compare the results and conclusions that emerge from different approaches. For example:
- Look at what results have emerged in qualitative versus quantitative research
- Discuss how the topic has been approached by empirical versus theoretical scholarship
- Divide the literature into sociological, historical, and cultural sources
A literature review is often the foundation for a theoretical framework . You can use it to discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts.
You might argue for the relevance of a specific theoretical approach, or combine various theoretical concepts to create a framework for your research.
Like any other academic text , your literature review should have an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion . What you include in each depends on the objective of your literature review.
The introduction should clearly establish the focus and purpose of the literature review.
Depending on the length of your literature review, you might want to divide the body into subsections. You can use a subheading for each theme, time period, or methodological approach.
As you write, you can follow these tips:
- Summarize and synthesize: give an overview of the main points of each source and combine them into a coherent whole
- Analyze and interpret: don’t just paraphrase other researchers — add your own interpretations where possible, discussing the significance of findings in relation to the literature as a whole
- Critically evaluate: mention the strengths and weaknesses of your sources
- Write in well-structured paragraphs: use transition words and topic sentences to draw connections, comparisons and contrasts
In the conclusion, you should summarize the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasize their significance.
When you’ve finished writing and revising your literature review, don’t forget to proofread thoroughly before submitting. Not a language expert? Check out Scribbr’s professional proofreading services !
This article has been adapted into lecture slides that you can use to teach your students about writing a literature review.
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If you want to know more about the research process , methodology , research bias , or statistics , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.
- Sampling methods
- Simple random sampling
- Stratified sampling
- Cluster sampling
- Likert scales
- Null hypothesis
- Statistical power
- Probability distribution
- Effect size
- Poisson distribution
- Optimism bias
- Cognitive bias
- Implicit bias
- Hawthorne effect
- Anchoring bias
- Explicit bias
A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources (such as books, journal articles, and theses) related to a specific topic or research question .
It is often written as part of a thesis, dissertation , or research paper , in order to situate your work in relation to existing knowledge.
There are several reasons to conduct a literature review at the beginning of a research project:
- To familiarize yourself with the current state of knowledge on your topic
- To ensure that you’re not just repeating what others have already done
- To identify gaps in knowledge and unresolved problems that your research can address
- To develop your theoretical framework and methodology
- To provide an overview of the key findings and debates on the topic
Writing the literature review shows your reader how your work relates to existing research and what new insights it will contribute.
The literature review usually comes near the beginning of your thesis or dissertation . After the introduction , it grounds your research in a scholarly field and leads directly to your theoretical framework or methodology .
A literature review is a survey of credible sources on a topic, often used in dissertations , theses, and research papers . Literature reviews give an overview of knowledge on a subject, helping you identify relevant theories and methods, as well as gaps in existing research. Literature reviews are set up similarly to other academic texts , with an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion .
An annotated bibliography is a list of source references that has a short description (called an annotation ) for each of the sources. It is often assigned as part of the research process for a paper .
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Types of Literature Review
There are many types of literature review. The choice of a specific type depends on your research approach and design. The following types of literature review are the most popular in business studies:
Narrative literature review , also referred to as traditional literature review, critiques literature and summarizes the body of a literature. Narrative review also draws conclusions about the topic and identifies gaps or inconsistencies in a body of knowledge. You need to have a sufficiently focused research question to conduct a narrative literature review
Systematic literature review requires more rigorous and well-defined approach compared to most other types of literature review. Systematic literature review is comprehensive and details the timeframe within which the literature was selected. Systematic literature review can be divided into two categories: meta-analysis and meta-synthesis.
When you conduct meta-analysis you take findings from several studies on the same subject and analyze these using standardized statistical procedures. In meta-analysis patterns and relationships are detected and conclusions are drawn. Meta-analysis is associated with deductive research approach.
Meta-synthesis, on the other hand, is based on non-statistical techniques. This technique integrates, evaluates and interprets findings of multiple qualitative research studies. Meta-synthesis literature review is conducted usually when following inductive research approach.
Scoping literature review , as implied by its name is used to identify the scope or coverage of a body of literature on a given topic. It has been noted that “scoping reviews are useful for examining emerging evidence when it is still unclear what other, more specific questions can be posed and valuably addressed by a more precise systematic review.”  The main difference between systematic and scoping types of literature review is that, systematic literature review is conducted to find answer to more specific research questions, whereas scoping literature review is conducted to explore more general research question.
Argumentative literature review , as the name implies, examines literature selectively in order to support or refute an argument, deeply imbedded assumption, or philosophical problem already established in the literature. It should be noted that a potential for bias is a major shortcoming associated with argumentative literature review.
Integrative literature review reviews , critiques, and synthesizes secondary data about research topic in an integrated way such that new frameworks and perspectives on the topic are generated. If your research does not involve primary data collection and data analysis, then using integrative literature review will be your only option.
Theoretical literature review focuses on a pool of theory that has accumulated in regard to an issue, concept, theory, phenomena. Theoretical literature reviews play an instrumental role in establishing what theories already exist, the relationships between them, to what degree existing theories have been investigated, and to develop new hypotheses to be tested.
At the earlier parts of the literature review chapter, you need to specify the type of your literature review your chose and justify your choice. Your choice of a specific type of literature review should be based upon your research area, research problem and research methods. Also, you can briefly discuss other most popular types of literature review mentioned above, to illustrate your awareness of them.
 Munn, A. et. al. (2018) “Systematic review or scoping review? Guidance for authors when choosing between a systematic or scoping review approach” BMC Medical Research Methodology
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What Makes a Systematic Review Different from Other Types of Reviews?
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- Database Searching
- Creating the Search
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- Managing & Appraising Results
- Further Resources
Reproduced from Grant, M. J. and Booth, A. (2009), A typology of reviews: an analysis of 14 review types and associated methodologies. Health Information & Libraries Journal, 26: 91–108. doi:10.1111/j.1471-1842.2009.00848.x
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Literature Review: Types of Literature Reviews
- Literature Review
- Purpose of a Literature Review
- Work in Progress
- Compiling & Writing
- Books, Articles, & Web Pages
Types of Literature Reviews
- Departmental Differences
- Citation Styles & Plagiarism
- Know the Difference! Systematic Review vs. Literature Review
It is important to think of knowledge in a given field as consisting of three layers.
- First, there are the primary studies that researchers conduct and publish.
- Second, are the reviews of those studies that summarize and offer new interpretations built from and often extending beyond the original studies.
- Third, there are the perceptions, conclusions, opinions, and interpretations that are shared informally that become part of the lore of the field.
In composing a literature review, it is important to note that it is often this third layer of knowledge that is cited as "true" even though it often has only a loose relationship to the primary studies and secondary literature reviews.
Given this, while literature reviews are designed to provide an overview and synthesis of pertinent sources you have explored, there are several approaches to how they can be done, depending upon the type of analysis underpinning your study. Listed below are definitions of types of literature reviews:
Argumentative Review This form examines literature selectively in order to support or refute an argument, deeply embedded assumption, or philosophical problem already established in the literature. The purpose is to develop a body of literature that establishes a contrarian viewpoint. Given the value-laden nature of some social science research [e.g., educational reform; immigration control], argumentative approaches to analyzing the literature can be a legitimate and important form of discourse. However, note that they can also introduce problems of bias when they are used to make summary claims of the sort found in systematic reviews.
Integrative Review Considered a form of research that reviews, critiques, and synthesizes representative literature on a topic in an integrated way such that new frameworks and perspectives on the topic are generated. The body of literature includes all studies that address related or identical hypotheses. A well-done integrative review meets the same standards as primary research in regard to clarity, rigor, and replication.
Historical Review Few things rest in isolation from historical precedent. Historical reviews are focused on examining research throughout a period of time, often starting with the first time an issue, concept, theory, phenomenon emerged in the literature, then tracing its evolution within the scholarship of a discipline. The purpose is to place research in a historical context to show familiarity with state-of-the-art developments and to identify the likely directions for future research.
Methodological Review A review does not always focus on what someone said [content], but how they said it [method of analysis]. This approach provides a framework of understanding at different levels (i.e. those of theory, substantive fields, research approaches, and data collection and analysis techniques), enables researchers to draw on a wide variety of knowledge ranging from the conceptual level to practical documents for use in fieldwork in the areas of ontological and epistemological consideration, quantitative and qualitative integration, sampling, interviewing, data collection and data analysis, and helps highlight many ethical issues which we should be aware of and consider as we go through our study.
Systematic Review This form consists of an overview of existing evidence pertinent to a clearly formulated research question, which uses pre-specified and standardized methods to identify and critically appraise relevant research, and to collect, report, and analyze data from the studies that are included in the review. Typically it focuses on a very specific empirical question, often posed in a cause-and-effect form, such as "To what extent does A contribute to B?"
Theoretical Review The purpose of this form is to concretely examine the corpus of theory that has accumulated in regard to an issue, concept, theory, phenomenon. The theoretical literature review help establish what theories already exist, the relationships between them, to what degree the existing theories have been investigated, and to develop new hypotheses to be tested. Often this form is used to help establish a lack of appropriate theories or reveal that current theories are inadequate for explaining new or emerging research problems. The unit of analysis can focus on a theoretical concept or a whole theory or framework.
* Kennedy, Mary M. "Defining a Literature." Educational Researcher 36 (April 2007): 139-147.
All content is from The Literature Review created by Dr. Robert Larabee USC
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Writing a Literature Review
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A literature review is a document or section of a document that collects key sources on a topic and discusses those sources in conversation with each other (also called synthesis ). The lit review is an important genre in many disciplines, not just literature (i.e., the study of works of literature such as novels and plays). When we say “literature review” or refer to “the literature,” we are talking about the research ( scholarship ) in a given field. You will often see the terms “the research,” “the scholarship,” and “the literature” used mostly interchangeably.
Where, when, and why would I write a lit review?
There are a number of different situations where you might write a literature review, each with slightly different expectations; different disciplines, too, have field-specific expectations for what a literature review is and does. For instance, in the humanities, authors might include more overt argumentation and interpretation of source material in their literature reviews, whereas in the sciences, authors are more likely to report study designs and results in their literature reviews; these differences reflect these disciplines’ purposes and conventions in scholarship. You should always look at examples from your own discipline and talk to professors or mentors in your field to be sure you understand your discipline’s conventions, for literature reviews as well as for any other genre.
A literature review can be a part of a research paper or scholarly article, usually falling after the introduction and before the research methods sections. In these cases, the lit review just needs to cover scholarship that is important to the issue you are writing about; sometimes it will also cover key sources that informed your research methodology.
Lit reviews can also be standalone pieces, either as assignments in a class or as publications. In a class, a lit review may be assigned to help students familiarize themselves with a topic and with scholarship in their field, get an idea of the other researchers working on the topic they’re interested in, find gaps in existing research in order to propose new projects, and/or develop a theoretical framework and methodology for later research. As a publication, a lit review usually is meant to help make other scholars’ lives easier by collecting and summarizing, synthesizing, and analyzing existing research on a topic. This can be especially helpful for students or scholars getting into a new research area, or for directing an entire community of scholars toward questions that have not yet been answered.
What are the parts of a lit review?
Most lit reviews use a basic introduction-body-conclusion structure; if your lit review is part of a larger paper, the introduction and conclusion pieces may be just a few sentences while you focus most of your attention on the body. If your lit review is a standalone piece, the introduction and conclusion take up more space and give you a place to discuss your goals, research methods, and conclusions separately from where you discuss the literature itself.
- An introductory paragraph that explains what your working topic and thesis is
- A forecast of key topics or texts that will appear in the review
- Potentially, a description of how you found sources and how you analyzed them for inclusion and discussion in the review (more often found in published, standalone literature reviews than in lit review sections in an article or research paper)
- Summarize and synthesize: Give an overview of the main points of each source and combine them into a coherent whole
- Analyze and interpret: Don’t just paraphrase other researchers – add your own interpretations where possible, discussing the significance of findings in relation to the literature as a whole
- Critically Evaluate: Mention the strengths and weaknesses of your sources
- Write in well-structured paragraphs: Use transition words and topic sentence to draw connections, comparisons, and contrasts.
- Summarize the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasize their significance
- Connect it back to your primary research question
How should I organize my lit review?
Lit reviews can take many different organizational patterns depending on what you are trying to accomplish with the review. Here are some examples:
- Chronological : The simplest approach is to trace the development of the topic over time, which helps familiarize the audience with the topic (for instance if you are introducing something that is not commonly known in your field). If you choose this strategy, be careful to avoid simply listing and summarizing sources in order. Try to analyze the patterns, turning points, and key debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred (as mentioned previously, this may not be appropriate in your discipline — check with a teacher or mentor if you’re unsure).
- Thematic : If you have found some recurring central themes that you will continue working with throughout your piece, you can organize your literature review into subsections that address different aspects of the topic. For example, if you are reviewing literature about women and religion, key themes can include the role of women in churches and the religious attitude towards women.
- Qualitative versus quantitative research
- Empirical versus theoretical scholarship
- Divide the research by sociological, historical, or cultural sources
- Theoretical : In many humanities articles, the literature review is the foundation for the theoretical framework. You can use it to discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts. You can argue for the relevance of a specific theoretical approach or combine various theorical concepts to create a framework for your research.
What are some strategies or tips I can use while writing my lit review?
Any lit review is only as good as the research it discusses; make sure your sources are well-chosen and your research is thorough. Don’t be afraid to do more research if you discover a new thread as you’re writing. More info on the research process is available in our "Conducting Research" resources .
As you’re doing your research, create an annotated bibliography ( see our page on the this type of document ). Much of the information used in an annotated bibliography can be used also in a literature review, so you’ll be not only partially drafting your lit review as you research, but also developing your sense of the larger conversation going on among scholars, professionals, and any other stakeholders in your topic.
Usually you will need to synthesize research rather than just summarizing it. This means drawing connections between sources to create a picture of the scholarly conversation on a topic over time. Many student writers struggle to synthesize because they feel they don’t have anything to add to the scholars they are citing; here are some strategies to help you:
- It often helps to remember that the point of these kinds of syntheses is to show your readers how you understand your research, to help them read the rest of your paper.
- Writing teachers often say synthesis is like hosting a dinner party: imagine all your sources are together in a room, discussing your topic. What are they saying to each other?
- Look at the in-text citations in each paragraph. Are you citing just one source for each paragraph? This usually indicates summary only. When you have multiple sources cited in a paragraph, you are more likely to be synthesizing them (not always, but often
- Read more about synthesis here.
The most interesting literature reviews are often written as arguments (again, as mentioned at the beginning of the page, this is discipline-specific and doesn’t work for all situations). Often, the literature review is where you can establish your research as filling a particular gap or as relevant in a particular way. You have some chance to do this in your introduction in an article, but the literature review section gives a more extended opportunity to establish the conversation in the way you would like your readers to see it. You can choose the intellectual lineage you would like to be part of and whose definitions matter most to your thinking (mostly humanities-specific, but this goes for sciences as well). In addressing these points, you argue for your place in the conversation, which tends to make the lit review more compelling than a simple reporting of other sources.
How to Conduct a Literature Review: A Guide for Graduate Students
- Let's Get Started!
- Traditional or Narrative Reviews
- Systematic Reviews
- Typology of Reviews
- Literature Review Resources
- Developing a Search Strategy
- What Literature to Search
- Where to Search: Indexes and Databases
- Finding articles: Libkey Nomad
- Finding Dissertations and Theses
- Extending Your Searching with Citation Chains
- Forward Citation Chains - Cited Reference Searching
- Keeping up with the Literature
- Managing Your References
- Need More Information?
What is a Literature Review?
A literature review summarizes and synthesizes material on a research topic. It provides a summary of previous research and provides context for the material presented in your thesis. The literature review is your opportunity to show what you understand about your topic area, and distinguish previous research from the work you are doing. For example, your thesis may be building on an existing theory or model and extending it a new direction. It's important to provide context for your project by providing a roadmap to previous literature.
Purpose of a Literature Review
- Identifies gaps in current knowledge
- Helps you to avoid reinventing the wheel by discovering the research already conducted on a topic
- Sets the background on what has been explored on a topic so far
- Increases your breadth of knowledge in your area of research
- Helps you identify seminal works in your area
- Allows you to provide the intellectual context for your work and position your research with other, related research
- Provides you with opposing viewpoints
- Helps you to discover research methods which may be applicable to your work
- Research methods for post graduates Full cite: Greenfield (2002) Research Methods for postgraduates. 2nd Ed. London: Arnold
- A typology of reviews: an analysis of 14 review types and associated methodologies Full cite: Grant, M. J. and Booth, A. (2009), A typology of reviews: an analysis of 14 review types and associated methodologies. Health Information & Libraries Journal, 26, 91–108. doi:10.1111/j.1471-1842.2009.00848.x
Literature Reviews: An Overview for Graduate Students
This section adapted from The Literature Review, by Charles Stuart University Library. Available: https://libguides.csu.edu.au/review.
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Completing A Literature Review
- What is a Literature Review?
Types of Literature Review
- Tips for Conducting a Literature Review
- Developing a Search Strategy
- Tips for Writing your Literature Review
Help with your Literature Review
The library has a Moodle module that has lots of tutorials on academic skills such as searching, writing and referencing.
Types of literature review
Sometimes it can be useful to pick a 'type' of literature review to help you structure your work. Your choice of review type will depend upon a number of different factors including the purpose of the review, subject area, and the research question.
Below is a brief overview of some popular types of literature review.
- Argumentative Reviews involve using selective information to support one side of an argument. This type of review can also be used to refute an argument or an established point of view. It is worth noting that bias can be a feature of this type of review.
- Historical Reviews identify and trace how things were done in the past, mapping changes in theory, processes, etc. It also places research within historical context.
- Integrative Reviews bring new perspective to an existing body of literature. This involves critically evaluating and synthesising secondary data to create new perspectives. This type of review can be used when the researcher is not collecting or analysing their own data (primary data).
- Mapping Reviews are similar to a scoping review (see below) but focus on a specific question not a topic.
- Methodological Reviews examine how research was conducted. This type of review often involves reviewing the entire research design process, from philosophy to methodology, data collection methods and data analysis.
- Narrative Reviews involve summarising and critically evaluating information within a body of knowledge. It allows researchers to draw conclusions and to identify gaps within the literature. You will need to have a clearly defined research question in order to undertake a narrative review.
- Scoping Reviews provide a "preliminary assessment of potential size and scope of available research literature. [The] aim is to identify the nature and extent of research evidence (usually including ongoing research).” Grant & Booth “A typology of reviews: an analysis of 14 review types and associated methodologies”. Health Information & Libraries Journal. May, 2009.
- Systematic Reviews involve doing an exhaustive review of a topic with the purpose of answering a question or solving a problem. Systematic reviews are conducted according to a strict selection and evaluation criteria. These reviews seek to identify relationships and patterns from which conclusions can be drawn.
- Theoretical Reviews attempt to identify existing theories or highlight a lack of adequate theory within a subject area. This type of review can also examine how well a particular theory has been tested.
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Types of Literature Reviews
Strategies for getting started, composition guidelines, how to locate reviews by discipline.
We also provide the following activities:
Types of Literature Reviews [Refresher]
The previous page provided an introduction to literature reviews and guidelines for determining the scope and purpose of your review. Next, we take a look at the different types of literature reviews and why a researcher might select one type over another.
A literature review helps your reader understand the relationship of your research project to the work of other scholars. It covers the existing knowledge about a topic, and allows you to show the relevance/significance of your contribution to the discussion. Your reader may or may not have read scholarly literature about the theories, methodologies, and literary works you are discussing. But they want to know that you have read it and have thought about it. Your literature review provides not only a summary of the existing scholarship for readers; it also offers your perspective on it.
Not all humanities research projects contain literature reviews, but many do. Keep in mind that the type of literature review you choose (see list below) pertains to the secondary research – other scholarly sources – and not to the primary literary work. For instance, a literature review about Kate Chopin’s writing will be your thoughts about the scholarship on Chopin and not about Chopin’s text itself. You are summarizing what you see in the scholarly literature about Chopin’s writing. The literature review puts you in the position of authority not just on Chopin’s writing but on the scholarship about her writing. You are seeking to understand what scholars have said about her work. Scholars might belong to different schools of thought about it. They might make different arguments about it. They might use different theories and methodological approaches. You are writing as much about the scholars’ views of Chopin as you are about Chopin.
If your research involves two or more theories, such as psychology and genre studies, you may need to create multiple literature reviews, one for each theory or methodology. If the theories overlap with each other significantly (i.e., Marxism and Cultural Studies), you may combine them. Your literature review need not include everything about the subject area – you would need to write a book to cover a single theory – but only those concepts and methods that are most relevant to your research question.
Factors to Consider When Developing Your Literature Review
- Determine the Scope : How broad or narrow should your literature review be? You may want to focus on recent scholarship only, or on a particular school of thought in the literature. Your scope is determined by your purpose; what is it you aim to achieve with your research?
- Establish Criteria : We discussed the importance of defining the purpose and scope of your review on the previous page, but it’s worth reviewing here as well. This step will help you establish important criteria and focus your searching. For example, how many sources will you need? What types of sources (primary, secondary, statistics, media)? Is currency important? Do you know who the prominent authors or theorists are in your subject area? Take some time to map out these or other important factors before you begin searching journals and databases.
- Consider Your Audience : Unlike a work cited page or an annotated bibliography, both of which are lists of sources, a literature review is essayistic and can be considered a precursor to your final paper. Therefore, it should be written in your own voice, and it should be geared toward a specific audience. Considering audience during this early stage will help focus your final paper as well.
- Find Models : We’ll discuss the different types of literature reviews and how to locate examples in the section below. However, even if you’re undecided about what type of review will work best for you, you may want to review some example literature reviews to get a sense of what they look like before you begin your own.
One piece of advice before starting: look for existing literature reviews on your area of scholarship. You can build on the work that other scholars have put into reviewing the scholarly literature. There’s no need to completely “reinvent the wheel” if some of the work is already done.
Scholars sometimes publish “stand-alone” literature reviews that are not part of a larger work; such literature reviews are valuable contributions to the field, as they summarize the state of knowledge for other scholars.
Maria J. Grant and Andrew Booth’s “A Typology of Reviews” identifies 14 distinct types of literature reviews. Further, the UCLA library created a chart to complement the article and for easy comparison of those 14 types of reviews. This section provides a brief summary of the most common literature reviews. For a more complete analysis, please see the full article and the chart .
To choose the most appropriate structure, put yourself in your reader’s shoes and think through their need for information. The literature review is about providing context for your contribution. How much context do people need? Keep it to the minimum necessary; compressing a lot of information into a small amount of text is a must.
These structures are not meant to be straightjackets but tools to help you organize your research. If you find that the tool is working, then keep using it. If not, switch tools or modify the one you are using. Keep in mind that the types of literature reviews are just different ways of organizing information. So, you can discuss literary trends without organizing your review of secondary literature by trend; your discussion can be organized by theory or theme, for examples. In our literature reviews, we are not recounting other scholars’ arguments at length but merely providing key concepts so we can summarize the discussion so far and position our own claims. You don’t have to adhere strictly to one structure or another. They are just organizing tools that help you manage your material (and help your reader make sense of it).
Types of Reviews
- Traditional or narrative reviews : This approach will generate a comprehensive, critical analysis of the published research on your topic. However, rather than merely compiling as many sources as possible, use this approach to establish a theoretical framework for your paper, establish trends, and identify gaps in the research. This process should bring your research question into clearer focus and help define a thesis that you will argue for in your paper. This is perhaps the most common and general type of literature review. The examples listed below are all designed to serve a more specific purpose.
- Argumentative : The purpose of an argumentative literature review is to select sources for the purpose of supporting or refuting a specific claim. While this type of review can help the author make a strong case for or against an issue, they can also be prone to claims of bias. Later in this textbook, we will read about the distinction between warranted and unwarranted bias . One is ok and the other is not.
- Chronological : A chronological review is used when the author wants to demonstrate the progression of how a theory, methodology, or issue has progressed over time. This method is most effective when there is a clear chronological path to the research about a specific historical event or trend as opposed to a more recursive theoretical concept.
- By trend : This is similar to the chronological approach except it focuses on clearly-defined trends rather than date ranges. This would be most appropriate if you want to illustrate changing perspectives or attitudes about a given issue when specific date ranges are less important than the ebb and flow of the trend.
- Thematic : In this type of literature review, the author will select specific themes that he or she feels are important to understanding a larger topic or concept. Then, the author will organize the sources around those themes, which are often based on relevance or importance. The value of this method is that the process of organizing the review by theme is similar to constructing an argument. This can help the author see how resources connect to each other and determine how as well as why specific sources support their thesis.
- Theoretical : The goal of this type of review is to examine how theory has shaped the research on a given topic. It establishes existing theoretical models, their connections, and how extensively they have been developed in the published research. For example, Jada applied critical race theory to her analysis of Sonny’s Blues , but she might also consider conducting a more comprehensive review of other theoretical frameworks such as feminism, Marxism, or postmodernism. Doing so could provide insight into alternate readings, and help her identify theoretical gaps such as unexplored or under-developed approaches to Baldwin’s work.
- Methodological : The approach focuses on the various methodologies used by researchers in a specific area rather than an analysis of their findings. In this case, you would create a framework of approaches to data collection related to your topic or research question. This is perhaps more common in education or the social and hard sciences where published research often includes a methods section, but it is sometimes appropriate for the digital humanities as well.
- Scoping : The aim of a scoping review is to provide a comprehensive overview or map of the published research or evidence related to a research question. This might be considered a prelude to a systematic review that would take the scoping review one step further toward answering a clearly defined research question. See below for more details.
- Systematic : The systematic review is most appropriate when you have a clearly-defined research question and have established criteria for the types of sources you need. In this way, the systematic review is less exploratory than other types of reviews. Rather, it is comprehensive, strategic, and focused on answering a specific research question. For this reason, the systematic review is more common in the health and social sciences, where comprehensiveness is more important than interpretation, than the humanities.
- Meta-analysis : Does your research deal with statistics or large amounts of data? If so, then a meta-analysis might be best for you rather than providing a critical review, the meta-analysis will summarize and synthesize the results of numerous studies that involve statistics or data to provide a more comprehensive picture than would be possible from just one study.
An argumentative literature review presents and takes sides in scholarly arguments about the literary work. It makes arguments about other scholars’ work. It does not necessarily involve a claim that the literary work is itself making an argument. Likewise, a chronological literature review presents the scholarly literature in chronological order.
You don’t need to keep strictly to one type. Scholars often combine features from various types of literature reviews. A sample review that combines the follow types –
– is the excellent work of Eiranen, Reetta, Mari Hatavara, Ville Kivimäki, Maria Mäkelä & Raisa Maria Toivo (2022) “ Narrative and Experience: Interdisciplinary Methodologies between History and Narratology ,” Scandinavian Journal of History , 47:1, 1-15
When writing your literature review, please follow these pointers:
- Conduct systematic searches
- Use Evidence
- Be Selective
- Use Quotes Sparingly
- Summarize & Synthesize
- Use Caution when Paraphrasing
- Use Your Own Voice
Advice from James Mason University’s “Literature Reviews: An Overview”
Typical structure of a literature review:
A note on synthesizing : Don’t make the common mistake of summarizing individual studies or articles one after the other. The goal is to synthesize—that is, to make observations about groups of studies. Synthesis often uses language like this:
- Much of the literature on [topic x ] focuses on [major themes].
- In recent years, researchers have begun investigating [facets a , b , and c ] of [topic x ].
- The studies in this review of [topic x ] confirm / suggest / call into question / support [idea / practice / finding / method / theory / guideline y ].
- In the reviewed studies [variable x ] was generally associated with higher / lower rates of [outcome y ].
- A limitation of some / most / all of these studies is [ y ].
Please see this sample annotated literature review from James Mason University.
Literature reviews can be published as part of a scholarly article, often after the introduction and sometimes with a header, but they can also be published as a standalone essay. To find examples of what reviews look like in your discipline, choose an appropriate subject database (such as MLA for literary criticism) and conduct a keyword search with the term “Literature Review” added in quotes:
Not only do these examples demonstrate how to structure different types of literature reviews, but some offer insights into trends and directions for future research. In the next section, we’ll take a closer look at some reading strategies to help guide you through this process.
Since scholars already have produced literature reviews on various scholarly conversations, you don’t always need to “reinvent the wheel” (start a literature review from nothing). You can find a published literature review and update it or amend it; scholars do that all the time. However, you must properly cite work you incorporate from others.
- What types of literature review will you be using for your paper? Why did you make this selection over others? If you haven’t made a selection yet, which types are you considering?
- What specific challenges do you face in following a literature review structure?
- If there are any elements of your assignment that need clarification, please list them.
- What was the most important lesson you learned from this page? What point was confusing or difficult to understand?
Strategies for Conducting Literary Research, 2e Copyright © 2021 by Barry Mauer & John Venecek is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.
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- Getting Started
Selecting a Review Type
Defining the scope of your review, four common types of reviews.
- Developing a Research Question
- Searching the Literature
- Searching Tips
- ChatGPT [beta]
- Documenting your Search
- Using Citation Managers
- Writing the Review
- Further Resources
More Review Types
This article by Sutton & Booth (2019) explores 48 distinct types of Literature Reviews:
Which Review is Right for You?
The Right Review tool has questions about your lit review process and plans. It offers a qualitative and quantitative option. At completion, you are given a lit review type recommendation.
You'll want to think about the kind of review you are doing. Is it a selective or comprehensive review? Is the review part of a larger work or a stand-alone work ?
For example, if you're writing the Literature Review section of a journal article, that's a selective review which is part of a larger work. Alternatively, if you're writing a review article, that's a comprehensive review which is a stand-alone work. Thinking about this will help you develop the scope of the review.
This exercise will help define the scope of your Literature Review, setting the boundaries for which literature to include and which to exclude.
A FEW GENERAL CONSIDERATIONS WHEN DEFINING SCOPE
- Which populations to investigate — this can include gender, age, socio-economic status, race, geographic location, etc., if the research area includes humans.
- What years to include — if researching the legalization of medicinal cannabis, you might only look at the previous 20 years; but if researching dolphin mating practices, you might extend many more decades.
- Which subject areas — if researching artificial intelligence, subject areas could be computer science, robotics, or health sciences
- How many sources — a selective review for a class assignment might only need ten, while a comprehensive review for a dissertation might include hundreds. There is no one right answer.
- There will be many other considerations that are more specific to your topic.
Most databases will allow you to limit years and subject areas, so look for those tools while searching. See the Searching Tips tab for information on how use these tools.
- Often used as a generic term to describe any type of review
- More precise definition: Published materials that provide an examination of published literature . Can cover wide range of subjects at various levels of comprehensiveness.
- Identifies gaps in research, explains importance of topic, hypothesizes future work, etc.
- Usually written as part of a larger work like a journal article or dissertation
- Conducted to address broad research questions with the goal of understanding the extent of research that has been conducted.
- Provides a preliminary assessment of the potential size and scope of available research literature. It aims to identify the nature and extent of research evidence (usually including ongoing research)
- Doesn't assess the quality of the literature gathered (i.e. presence of literature on a topic shouldn’t be conflated w/ the quality of that literature)
- Common in the health sciences ( Taubman Health Sciences Library guide to Systematic Reviews )
- Goal: collect all literature that meets specific criteria (methodology, population, treatment, etc.) and then appraise its quality and synthesize it
- Follows strict protocol for literature collection, appraisal and synthesis
- Typically performed by research teams
- Takes 12-18 months to complete
- Often written as a stand alone work
- Goes one step further than a systematic review by statistically combining the results of quantitative studies to provide a more precise effect of the results.
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A literature review surveys prior research published in books, scholarly articles, and any other sources relevant to a particular issue, area of research, or theory, and by so doing, provides a description, summary, and critical evaluation of these works in relation to the research problem being investigated. Literature reviews are designed to provide an overview of sources you have used in researching a particular topic and to demonstrate to your readers how your research fits within existing scholarship about the topic.
Fink, Arlene. Conducting Research Literature Reviews: From the Internet to Paper . Fourth edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2014.
Importance of a Good Literature Review
A literature review may consist of simply a summary of key sources, but in the social sciences, a literature review usually has an organizational pattern and combines both summary and synthesis, often within specific conceptual categories . A summary is a recap of the important information of the source, but a synthesis is a re-organization, or a reshuffling, of that information in a way that informs how you are planning to investigate a research problem. The analytical features of a literature review might:
- Give a new interpretation of old material or combine new with old interpretations,
- Trace the intellectual progression of the field, including major debates,
- Depending on the situation, evaluate the sources and advise the reader on the most pertinent or relevant research, or
- Usually in the conclusion of a literature review, identify where gaps exist in how a problem has been researched to date.
Given this, the purpose of a literature review is to:
- Place each work in the context of its contribution to understanding the research problem being studied.
- Describe the relationship of each work to the others under consideration.
- Identify new ways to interpret prior research.
- Reveal any gaps that exist in the literature.
- Resolve conflicts amongst seemingly contradictory previous studies.
- Identify areas of prior scholarship to prevent duplication of effort.
- Point the way in fulfilling a need for additional research.
- Locate your own research within the context of existing literature [very important].
Fink, Arlene. Conducting Research Literature Reviews: From the Internet to Paper. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2005; Hart, Chris. Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1998; Jesson, Jill. Doing Your Literature Review: Traditional and Systematic Techniques . Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2011; Knopf, Jeffrey W. "Doing a Literature Review." PS: Political Science and Politics 39 (January 2006): 127-132; Ridley, Diana. The Literature Review: A Step-by-Step Guide for Students . 2nd ed. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2012.
Types of Literature Reviews
It is important to think of knowledge in a given field as consisting of three layers. First, there are the primary studies that researchers conduct and publish. Second are the reviews of those studies that summarize and offer new interpretations built from and often extending beyond the primary studies. Third, there are the perceptions, conclusions, opinion, and interpretations that are shared informally among scholars that become part of the body of epistemological traditions within the field.
In composing a literature review, it is important to note that it is often this third layer of knowledge that is cited as "true" even though it often has only a loose relationship to the primary studies and secondary literature reviews. Given this, while literature reviews are designed to provide an overview and synthesis of pertinent sources you have explored, there are a number of approaches you could adopt depending upon the type of analysis underpinning your study.
Argumentative Review This form examines literature selectively in order to support or refute an argument, deeply embedded assumption, or philosophical problem already established in the literature. The purpose is to develop a body of literature that establishes a contrarian viewpoint. Given the value-laden nature of some social science research [e.g., educational reform; immigration control], argumentative approaches to analyzing the literature can be a legitimate and important form of discourse. However, note that they can also introduce problems of bias when they are used to make summary claims of the sort found in systematic reviews [see below].
Integrative Review Considered a form of research that reviews, critiques, and synthesizes representative literature on a topic in an integrated way such that new frameworks and perspectives on the topic are generated. The body of literature includes all studies that address related or identical hypotheses or research problems. A well-done integrative review meets the same standards as primary research in regard to clarity, rigor, and replication. This is the most common form of review in the social sciences.
Historical Review Few things rest in isolation from historical precedent. Historical literature reviews focus on examining research throughout a period of time, often starting with the first time an issue, concept, theory, phenomena emerged in the literature, then tracing its evolution within the scholarship of a discipline. The purpose is to place research in a historical context to show familiarity with state-of-the-art developments and to identify the likely directions for future research.
Methodological Review A review does not always focus on what someone said [findings], but how they came about saying what they say [method of analysis]. Reviewing methods of analysis provides a framework of understanding at different levels [i.e. those of theory, substantive fields, research approaches, and data collection and analysis techniques], how researchers draw upon a wide variety of knowledge ranging from the conceptual level to practical documents for use in fieldwork in the areas of ontological and epistemological consideration, quantitative and qualitative integration, sampling, interviewing, data collection, and data analysis. This approach helps highlight ethical issues which you should be aware of and consider as you go through your own study.
Systematic Review This form consists of an overview of existing evidence pertinent to a clearly formulated research question, which uses pre-specified and standardized methods to identify and critically appraise relevant research, and to collect, report, and analyze data from the studies that are included in the review. The goal is to deliberately document, critically evaluate, and summarize scientifically all of the research about a clearly defined research problem . Typically it focuses on a very specific empirical question, often posed in a cause-and-effect form, such as "To what extent does A contribute to B?" This type of literature review is primarily applied to examining prior research studies in clinical medicine and allied health fields, but it is increasingly being used in the social sciences.
Theoretical Review The purpose of this form is to examine the corpus of theory that has accumulated in regard to an issue, concept, theory, phenomena. The theoretical literature review helps to establish what theories already exist, the relationships between them, to what degree the existing theories have been investigated, and to develop new hypotheses to be tested. Often this form is used to help establish a lack of appropriate theories or reveal that current theories are inadequate for explaining new or emerging research problems. The unit of analysis can focus on a theoretical concept or a whole theory or framework.
NOTE : Most often the literature review will incorporate some combination of types. For example, a review that examines literature supporting or refuting an argument, assumption, or philosophical problem related to the research problem will also need to include writing supported by sources that establish the history of these arguments in the literature.
Baumeister, Roy F. and Mark R. Leary. "Writing Narrative Literature Reviews." Review of General Psychology 1 (September 1997): 311-320; Mark R. Fink, Arlene. Conducting Research Literature Reviews: From the Internet to Paper . 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2005; Hart, Chris. Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1998; Kennedy, Mary M. "Defining a Literature." Educational Researcher 36 (April 2007): 139-147; Petticrew, Mark and Helen Roberts. Systematic Reviews in the Social Sciences: A Practical Guide . Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2006; Torracro, Richard. "Writing Integrative Literature Reviews: Guidelines and Examples." Human Resource Development Review 4 (September 2005): 356-367; Rocco, Tonette S. and Maria S. Plakhotnik. "Literature Reviews, Conceptual Frameworks, and Theoretical Frameworks: Terms, Functions, and Distinctions." Human Ressource Development Review 8 (March 2008): 120-130; Sutton, Anthea. Systematic Approaches to a Successful Literature Review . Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications, 2016.
Structure and Writing Style
I. Thinking About Your Literature Review
The structure of a literature review should include the following in support of understanding the research problem :
- An overview of the subject, issue, or theory under consideration, along with the objectives of the literature review,
- Division of works under review into themes or categories [e.g. works that support a particular position, those against, and those offering alternative approaches entirely],
- An explanation of how each work is similar to and how it varies from the others,
- Conclusions as to which pieces are best considered in their argument, are most convincing of their opinions, and make the greatest contribution to the understanding and development of their area of research.
The critical evaluation of each work should consider :
- Provenance -- what are the author's credentials? Are the author's arguments supported by evidence [e.g. primary historical material, case studies, narratives, statistics, recent scientific findings]?
- Methodology -- were the techniques used to identify, gather, and analyze the data appropriate to addressing the research problem? Was the sample size appropriate? Were the results effectively interpreted and reported?
- Objectivity -- is the author's perspective even-handed or prejudicial? Is contrary data considered or is certain pertinent information ignored to prove the author's point?
- Persuasiveness -- which of the author's theses are most convincing or least convincing?
- Validity -- are the author's arguments and conclusions convincing? Does the work ultimately contribute in any significant way to an understanding of the subject?
II. Development of the Literature Review
Four Basic Stages of Writing 1. Problem formulation -- which topic or field is being examined and what are its component issues? 2. Literature search -- finding materials relevant to the subject being explored. 3. Data evaluation -- determining which literature makes a significant contribution to the understanding of the topic. 4. Analysis and interpretation -- discussing the findings and conclusions of pertinent literature.
Consider the following issues before writing the literature review: Clarify If your assignment is not specific about what form your literature review should take, seek clarification from your professor by asking these questions: 1. Roughly how many sources would be appropriate to include? 2. What types of sources should I review (books, journal articles, websites; scholarly versus popular sources)? 3. Should I summarize, synthesize, or critique sources by discussing a common theme or issue? 4. Should I evaluate the sources in any way beyond evaluating how they relate to understanding the research problem? 5. Should I provide subheadings and other background information, such as definitions and/or a history? Find Models Use the exercise of reviewing the literature to examine how authors in your discipline or area of interest have composed their literature review sections. Read them to get a sense of the types of themes you might want to look for in your own research or to identify ways to organize your final review. The bibliography or reference section of sources you've already read, such as required readings in the course syllabus, are also excellent entry points into your own research. Narrow the Topic The narrower your topic, the easier it will be to limit the number of sources you need to read in order to obtain a good survey of relevant resources. Your professor will probably not expect you to read everything that's available about the topic, but you'll make the act of reviewing easier if you first limit scope of the research problem. A good strategy is to begin by searching the USC Libraries Catalog for recent books about the topic and review the table of contents for chapters that focuses on specific issues. You can also review the indexes of books to find references to specific issues that can serve as the focus of your research. For example, a book surveying the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may include a chapter on the role Egypt has played in mediating the conflict, or look in the index for the pages where Egypt is mentioned in the text. Consider Whether Your Sources are Current Some disciplines require that you use information that is as current as possible. This is particularly true in disciplines in medicine and the sciences where research conducted becomes obsolete very quickly as new discoveries are made. However, when writing a review in the social sciences, a survey of the history of the literature may be required. In other words, a complete understanding the research problem requires you to deliberately examine how knowledge and perspectives have changed over time. Sort through other current bibliographies or literature reviews in the field to get a sense of what your discipline expects. You can also use this method to explore what is considered by scholars to be a "hot topic" and what is not.
III. Ways to Organize Your Literature Review
Chronology of Events If your review follows the chronological method, you could write about the materials according to when they were published. This approach should only be followed if a clear path of research building on previous research can be identified and that these trends follow a clear chronological order of development. For example, a literature review that focuses on continuing research about the emergence of German economic power after the fall of the Soviet Union. By Publication Order your sources by publication chronology, then, only if the order demonstrates a more important trend. For instance, you could order a review of literature on environmental studies of brown fields if the progression revealed, for example, a change in the soil collection practices of the researchers who wrote and/or conducted the studies. Thematic [“conceptual categories”] A thematic literature review is the most common approach to summarizing prior research in the social and behavioral sciences. Thematic reviews are organized around a topic or issue, rather than the progression of time, although the progression of time may still be incorporated into a thematic review. For example, a review of the Internet’s impact on American presidential politics could focus on the development of online political satire. While the study focuses on one topic, the Internet’s impact on American presidential politics, it would still be organized chronologically reflecting technological developments in media. The difference in this example between a "chronological" and a "thematic" approach is what is emphasized the most: themes related to the role of the Internet in presidential politics. Note that more authentic thematic reviews tend to break away from chronological order. A review organized in this manner would shift between time periods within each section according to the point being made. Methodological A methodological approach focuses on the methods utilized by the researcher. For the Internet in American presidential politics project, one methodological approach would be to look at cultural differences between the portrayal of American presidents on American, British, and French websites. Or the review might focus on the fundraising impact of the Internet on a particular political party. A methodological scope will influence either the types of documents in the review or the way in which these documents are discussed.
Other Sections of Your Literature Review Once you've decided on the organizational method for your literature review, the sections you need to include in the paper should be easy to figure out because they arise from your organizational strategy. In other words, a chronological review would have subsections for each vital time period; a thematic review would have subtopics based upon factors that relate to the theme or issue. However, sometimes you may need to add additional sections that are necessary for your study, but do not fit in the organizational strategy of the body. What other sections you include in the body is up to you. However, only include what is necessary for the reader to locate your study within the larger scholarship about the research problem.
Here are examples of other sections, usually in the form of a single paragraph, you may need to include depending on the type of review you write:
- Current Situation : Information necessary to understand the current topic or focus of the literature review.
- Sources Used : Describes the methods and resources [e.g., databases] you used to identify the literature you reviewed.
- History : The chronological progression of the field, the research literature, or an idea that is necessary to understand the literature review, if the body of the literature review is not already a chronology.
- Selection Methods : Criteria you used to select (and perhaps exclude) sources in your literature review. For instance, you might explain that your review includes only peer-reviewed [i.e., scholarly] sources.
- Standards : Description of the way in which you present your information.
- Questions for Further Research : What questions about the field has the review sparked? How will you further your research as a result of the review?
IV. Writing Your Literature Review
Once you've settled on how to organize your literature review, you're ready to write each section. When writing your review, keep in mind these issues.
Use Evidence A literature review section is, in this sense, just like any other academic research paper. Your interpretation of the available sources must be backed up with evidence [citations] that demonstrates that what you are saying is valid. Be Selective Select only the most important points in each source to highlight in the review. The type of information you choose to mention should relate directly to the research problem, whether it is thematic, methodological, or chronological. Related items that provide additional information, but that are not key to understanding the research problem, can be included in a list of further readings . Use Quotes Sparingly Some short quotes are appropriate if you want to emphasize a point, or if what an author stated cannot be easily paraphrased. Sometimes you may need to quote certain terminology that was coined by the author, is not common knowledge, or taken directly from the study. Do not use extensive quotes as a substitute for using your own words in reviewing the literature. Summarize and Synthesize Remember to summarize and synthesize your sources within each thematic paragraph as well as throughout the review. Recapitulate important features of a research study, but then synthesize it by rephrasing the study's significance and relating it to your own work and the work of others. Keep Your Own Voice While the literature review presents others' ideas, your voice [the writer's] should remain front and center. For example, weave references to other sources into what you are writing but maintain your own voice by starting and ending the paragraph with your own ideas and wording. Use Caution When Paraphrasing When paraphrasing a source that is not your own, be sure to represent the author's information or opinions accurately and in your own words. Even when paraphrasing an author’s work, you still must provide a citation to that work.
V. Common Mistakes to Avoid
These are the most common mistakes made in reviewing social science research literature.
- Sources in your literature review do not clearly relate to the research problem;
- You do not take sufficient time to define and identify the most relevant sources to use in the literature review related to the research problem;
- Relies exclusively on secondary analytical sources rather than including relevant primary research studies or data;
- Uncritically accepts another researcher's findings and interpretations as valid, rather than examining critically all aspects of the research design and analysis;
- Does not describe the search procedures that were used in identifying the literature to review;
- Reports isolated statistical results rather than synthesizing them in chi-squared or meta-analytic methods; and,
- Only includes research that validates assumptions and does not consider contrary findings and alternative interpretations found in the literature.
Cook, Kathleen E. and Elise Murowchick. “Do Literature Review Skills Transfer from One Course to Another?” Psychology Learning and Teaching 13 (March 2014): 3-11; Fink, Arlene. Conducting Research Literature Reviews: From the Internet to Paper . 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2005; Hart, Chris. Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1998; Jesson, Jill. Doing Your Literature Review: Traditional and Systematic Techniques . London: SAGE, 2011; Literature Review Handout. Online Writing Center. Liberty University; Literature Reviews. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Onwuegbuzie, Anthony J. and Rebecca Frels. Seven Steps to a Comprehensive Literature Review: A Multimodal and Cultural Approach . Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2016; Ridley, Diana. The Literature Review: A Step-by-Step Guide for Students . 2nd ed. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2012; Randolph, Justus J. “A Guide to Writing the Dissertation Literature Review." Practical Assessment, Research, and Evaluation. vol. 14, June 2009; Sutton, Anthea. Systematic Approaches to a Successful Literature Review . Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications, 2016; Taylor, Dena. The Literature Review: A Few Tips On Conducting It. University College Writing Centre. University of Toronto; Writing a Literature Review. Academic Skills Centre. University of Canberra.
Break Out of Your Disciplinary Box!
Thinking interdisciplinarily about a research problem can be a rewarding exercise in applying new ideas, theories, or concepts to an old problem. For example, what might cultural anthropologists say about the continuing conflict in the Middle East? In what ways might geographers view the need for better distribution of social service agencies in large cities than how social workers might study the issue? You don’t want to substitute a thorough review of core research literature in your discipline for studies conducted in other fields of study. However, particularly in the social sciences, thinking about research problems from multiple vectors is a key strategy for finding new solutions to a problem or gaining a new perspective. Consult with a librarian about identifying research databases in other disciplines; almost every field of study has at least one comprehensive database devoted to indexing its research literature.
Frodeman, Robert. The Oxford Handbook of Interdisciplinarity . New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.
Another Writing Tip
Don't Just Review for Content!
While conducting a review of the literature, maximize the time you devote to writing this part of your paper by thinking broadly about what you should be looking for and evaluating. Review not just what scholars are saying, but how are they saying it. Some questions to ask:
- How are they organizing their ideas?
- What methods have they used to study the problem?
- What theories have been used to explain, predict, or understand their research problem?
- What sources have they cited to support their conclusions?
- How have they used non-textual elements [e.g., charts, graphs, figures, etc.] to illustrate key points?
When you begin to write your literature review section, you'll be glad you dug deeper into how the research was designed and constructed because it establishes a means for developing more substantial analysis and interpretation of the research problem.
Hart, Chris. Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1 998.
Yet Another Writing Tip
When Do I Know I Can Stop Looking and Move On?
Here are several strategies you can utilize to assess whether you've thoroughly reviewed the literature:
- Look for repeating patterns in the research findings . If the same thing is being said, just by different people, then this likely demonstrates that the research problem has hit a conceptual dead end. At this point consider: Does your study extend current research? Does it forge a new path? Or, does is merely add more of the same thing being said?
- Look at sources the authors cite to in their work . If you begin to see the same researchers cited again and again, then this is often an indication that no new ideas have been generated to address the research problem.
- Search Google Scholar to identify who has subsequently cited leading scholars already identified in your literature review [see next sub-tab]. This is called citation tracking and there are a number of sources that can help you identify who has cited whom, particularly scholars from outside of your discipline. Here again, if the same authors are being cited again and again, this may indicate no new literature has been written on the topic.
Onwuegbuzie, Anthony J. and Rebecca Frels. Seven Steps to a Comprehensive Literature Review: A Multimodal and Cultural Approach . Los Angeles, CA: Sage, 2016; Sutton, Anthea. Systematic Approaches to a Successful Literature Review . Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications, 2016.
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Literature Reviews within a Scholarly Work
Literature reviews as a scholarly work.
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Literature reviews summarize and analyze what has been written on a particular topic and identify gaps or disagreements in the scholarly work on that topic.
Within a scholarly work, the literature review situates the current work within the larger scholarly conversation and emphasizes how that particular scholarly work contributes to the conversation on the topic. The literature review portion may be as brief as a few paragraphs focusing on a narrow topic area.
When writing this type of literature review, it's helpful to start by identifying sources most relevant to your research question. A citation tracking database such as Web of Science can also help you locate seminal articles on a topic and find out who has more recently cited them. See "Your Literature Search" for more details.
A literature review may itself be a scholarly publication and provide an analysis of what has been written on a particular topic without contributing original research. These types of literature reviews can serve to help keep people updated on a field as well as helping scholars choose a research topic to fill gaps in the knowledge on that topic. Common types include:
Systematic literature reviews follow specific procedures in some ways similar to setting up an experiment to ensure that future scholars can replicate the same steps. They are also helpful for evaluating data published over multiple studies. Thus, these are common in the medical field and may be used by healthcare providers to help guide diagnosis and treatment decisions. Cochrane Reviews are one example of this type of literature review.
When a systematic review is not feasible, a semi-systematic review can help synthesize research on a topic or how a topic has been studied in different fields (Snyder 2019). Rather than focusing on quantitative data, this review type identifies themes, theoretical perspectives, and other qualitative information related to the topic. These types of reviews can be particularly helpful for a historical topic overview, for developing a theoretical model, and for creating a research agenda for a field (Snyder 2019). As with systematic reviews, a search strategy must be developed before conducting the review.
An integrative review is less systematic and can be helpful for developing a theoretical model or to reconceptualize a topic. As Synder (2019) notes, " This type of review often re quires a more creative collection of data, as the purpose is usually not to cover all articles ever published on the topic but rather to combine perspectives and insights from di ff erent fi elds or research traditions" (p. 336).
Source: Snyder, H. (2019). Literature review as a research methodology: An overview and guidelines. Journal of Business Research. 104. 333-339. doi: 10.1016/j.jbusres.2019.07.039
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What is a literature review?
A literature review is an integrated analysis -- not just a summary-- of scholarly writings and other relevant evidence related directly to your research question. That is, it represents a synthesis of the evidence that provides background information on your topic and shows a association between the evidence and your research question.
A literature review may be a stand alone work or the introduction to a larger research paper, depending on the assignment. Rely heavily on the guidelines your instructor has given you.
Why is it important?
A literature review is important because it:
- Explains the background of research on a topic.
- Demonstrates why a topic is significant to a subject area.
- Discovers relationships between research studies/ideas.
- Identifies major themes, concepts, and researchers on a topic.
- Identifies critical gaps and points of disagreement.
- Discusses further research questions that logically come out of the previous studies.
APA7 Style resources
APA Style Blog - for those harder to find answers
1. Choose a topic. Define your research question.
Your literature review should be guided by your central research question. The literature represents background and research developments related to a specific research question, interpreted and analyzed by you in a synthesized way.
- Make sure your research question is not too broad or too narrow. Is it manageable?
- Begin writing down terms that are related to your question. These will be useful for searches later.
- If you have the opportunity, discuss your topic with your professor and your class mates.
2. Decide on the scope of your review
How many studies do you need to look at? How comprehensive should it be? How many years should it cover?
- This may depend on your assignment. How many sources does the assignment require?
3. Select the databases you will use to conduct your searches.
Make a list of the databases you will search.
Where to find databases:
- use the tabs on this guide
- Find other databases in the Nursing Information Resources web page
- More on the Medical Library web page
- ... and more on the Yale University Library web page
4. Conduct your searches to find the evidence. Keep track of your searches.
- Use the key words in your question, as well as synonyms for those words, as terms in your search. Use the database tutorials for help.
- Save the searches in the databases. This saves time when you want to redo, or modify, the searches. It is also helpful to use as a guide is the searches are not finding any useful results.
- Review the abstracts of research studies carefully. This will save you time.
- Use the bibliographies and references of research studies you find to locate others.
- Check with your professor, or a subject expert in the field, if you are missing any key works in the field.
- Ask your librarian for help at any time.
- Use a citation manager, such as EndNote as the repository for your citations. See the EndNote tutorials for help.
Review the literature
Some questions to help you analyze the research:
- What was the research question of the study you are reviewing? What were the authors trying to discover?
- Was the research funded by a source that could influence the findings?
- What were the research methodologies? Analyze its literature review, the samples and variables used, the results, and the conclusions.
- Does the research seem to be complete? Could it have been conducted more soundly? What further questions does it raise?
- If there are conflicting studies, why do you think that is?
- How are the authors viewed in the field? Has this study been cited? If so, how has it been analyzed?
- Review the abstracts carefully.
- Keep careful notes so that you may track your thought processes during the research process.
- Create a matrix of the studies for easy analysis, and synthesis, across all of the studies.
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- Introduction to Literature Reviews
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Types of Literature Reviews
There are four main types of literature reviews:
Narrative or Traditional
- Summarizes and analyzes a body of literature on a particular subject. This type of lit review is useful for providing background and overview and for illuminating areas for further research. The least methodologically rigorous type of lit review makes this type appropriate for academic courses and can be helpful in focusing a topic and in further refining a research question.
- Example article:
Aphramor, L. (2010). Validity of claims made in weight management research: a narrative review of dietetic articles. Nutrition Journal , 9 30-38.
- Employs strict methodology and selection criteria to address a clearly defined research question. Systematic reviews include as many relevant published and unpublished studies as possible using careful evaluation for quality, rigorous methods to limit bias, and strict controls to avoid selective inclusion or exclusion. Multiple reviewers are common and methods are carefully detailed for replicability.
- Example article (log into MyUTampa for access):
Bandera, E.V., Kushi, L.H., Moore, D. F., Gifkins, D.M., McCullough, M.L. (2007, November). Consumption of animal foods and endometrial cancer risk: A systematic literature review and meta-analysis. Cancer Causes & Controls , 18(9), 967-988.
- A type of quantitative systematic literature review which involves statistical analysis of multiple research studies to reveal patterns, relationships, and to integrate findings from many studies on the same subject.
Faragher, E.B., Cass, M., & Cooper, C.L. (2005, February). The relationship between job satisfaction and health: A meta-analysis. Occupational and Environmental Medicine , 62(2), 105-112.
- A type of non-statistical review which analyzes and synthesizes qualitative research studies to locate common elements, themes, and core similarities to build theory and develop new conceptualizations.
Priddis, H., Dahlen, H., Schmied, V. (2013, April).Women’s experiences following severe perineal trauma: a metaethnographic synthesis. Journal of Advanced Nursing , 69(4), 748–759. doi: 10.1111/jan.12005
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Literature Review Research
Literature review, types of literature reviews.
- Finding information
- Additional Resources
- Explains the background of research on a topic
- Demonstrates why a topic is significant to a subject area
- Helps focus your own research questions or problems
- Discovers relationships between research studies/ideas
- Suggests unexplored ideas or populations
- Identifies major themes, concepts, and researchers on a topic
- Tests assumptions; may help counter preconceived ideas and remove unconscious bias.
- Identifies critical gaps, points of disagreement, or potentially flawed methodology or theoretical approaches
Argumentative Review This form examines literature selectively in order to support or refute an argument, deeply imbedded assumption, or philosophical problem already established in the literature.
Integrative Review Considered a form of research that reviews, critiques, and synthesizes representative literature on a topic in an integrated way such that new frameworks and perspectives on the topic are generated. The body of literature includes all studies that address related or identical hypotheses. A well-done integrative review meets the same standards as primary research in regard to clarity, rigor, and replication.
Historical Review Historical reviews are focused on examining research throughout a period of time, often starting with the first time an issue, concept, theory, phenomena emerged in the literature, then tracing its evolution within the scholarship of a discipline. The purpose is to place research in a historical context to show familiarity with state-of-the-art developments and to identify the likely directions for future research.
Methodological Review This approach provides a framework of understanding at different levels (i.e. those of theory, substantive fields, research approaches and data collection and analysis techniques), enables researchers to draw on a wide variety of knowledge ranging from the conceptual level to practical documents for use in fieldwork.
Systematic Review Uses pre-specified and standardized methods to identify and critically appraise relevant research, and to collect, report, and analyze data from the studies that are included in the review. Typically it focuses on a very specific empirical question.
Examines the theory that has accumulated in regard to an issue, concept, theory, phenomena. Helps to establish what theories already exist, the relationships between them, to what degree the existing theories have been investigated, and to develop new hypotheses to be tested. Often this form is used to help establish a lack of appropriate theories or reveal that current theories are inadequate for explaining new or emerging research problems.
* Kennedy, Mary M. "Defining a Literature." Educational Researcher 36 (April 2007): 139-147.
All content in this section is from The Literature Review created by Dr. Robert Larabee USC
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ON YOUR 1ST ORDER
Different Types of Literature Review: Which One Fits Your Research?
By Laura Brown on 13th October 2023
You might not have heard that there are multiple kinds of literature review. However, with the progress in your academic career you will learn these classifications and may need to use different types of them. However, there is nothing to worry if you aren’t aware of them now, as here we are going to discuss this topic in detail.
There are approximately 14 types of literature review on the basis of their specific objectives, methodologies, and the way they approach and analyse existing literature in academic research. Of those 14, there are 4 major types. But before we delve into the details of each one of them and how they are useful in academics, let’s first understand the basics of literature review.
What is Literature Review?
A literature review is a critical and systematic summary and evaluation of existing research. It is an essential component of academic and research work, providing an overview of the current state of knowledge in a particular field.
In easy words, a literature review is like making a big, organised summary of all the important research and smart books or articles about a particular topic or question. It’s something scholars and researchers do, and it helps everyone see what we already know about that topic. It’s kind of like taking a snapshot of what we understand right now in a certain field.
It serves with some specific purpose in the research.
- Provides a comprehensive understanding of existing research on a topic.
- Identifies gaps, trends, and inconsistencies in the literature.
- Contextualise your own research within the broader academic discourse.
- Supports the development of theoretical frameworks or research hypotheses.
4 Major Types Of Literature Review
The four major types include, Narrative Review, Systematic Review, Meta-Analysis, and Scoping Review. These are known as the major ones because they’re like the “go-to” methods for researchers in academic and research circles. Think of them as the classic tools in the researcher’s toolbox. They’ve earned their reputation because they have a unique style for literature review introduction , clear steps and specific qualities that make them super handy for different research needs.
1. Narrative Review
Narrative reviews present a well-structured narrative that reads like a cohesive story, providing a comprehensive overview of a specific topic. These reviews often incorporate historical context and offer a broad understanding of the subject matter, making them valuable for researchers looking to establish a foundational understanding of their area of interest. They are particularly useful when a historical perspective or a broad context is necessary to comprehend the current state of knowledge in a field.
2. Systematic Review
Systematic reviews are renowned for their methodological rigour. They involve a meticulously structured process that includes the systematic selection of relevant studies, comprehensive data extraction, and a critical synthesis of their findings. This systematic approach is designed to minimise bias and subjectivity, making systematic reviews highly reliable and objective. They are considered the gold standard for evidence-based research as they provide a clear and rigorous assessment of the available evidence on a specific research question.
3. Meta Analysis
Meta analysis is a powerful method for researchers who prefer a quantitative and statistical perspective. It involves the statistical synthesis of data from various studies, allowing researchers to draw more precise and generalisable conclusions by combining data from multiple sources. Meta analyses are especially valuable when the aim is to quantitatively measure the effect size or impact of a particular intervention, treatment, or phenomenon.
4. Scoping Review
Scoping reviews are invaluable tools, especially for researchers in the early stages of exploring a topic. These reviews aim to map the existing literature, identifying gaps and helping clarify research questions. Scoping reviews provide a panoramic view of the available research, which is particularly useful when researchers are embarking on exploratory studies or trying to understand the breadth and depth of a subject before conducting more focused research.
Different Types Of Literature review In Research
There are some more approaches to conduct literature review. Let’s explore these classifications quickly.
5. Critical Review
Critical reviews provide an in-depth evaluation of existing literature, scrutinising sources for their strengths, weaknesses, and relevance. They offer a critical perspective, often highlighting gaps in the research and areas for further investigation.
6. Theoretical Review
Theoretical reviews are centred around exploring and analysing the theoretical frameworks, concepts, and models present in the literature. They aim to contribute to the development and refinement of theoretical perspectives within a specific field.
7. Integrative Review
Integrative reviews synthesise a diverse range of studies, drawing connections between various research findings to create a comprehensive understanding of a topic. These reviews often bridge gaps between different perspectives and provide a holistic overview.
8. Historical Review
Historical reviews focus on the evolution of a topic over time, tracing its development through past research, events, and scholarly contributions. They offer valuable context for understanding the current state of research.
9. Methodological Review
Among the different kinds of literature reviews, methodological reviews delve into the research methods and methodologies employed in existing studies. Researchers assess these approaches for their effectiveness, validity, and relevance to the research question at hand.
10. Cross-Disciplinary Review
Cross-disciplinary reviews explore a topic from multiple academic disciplines, emphasising the diversity of perspectives and insights that each discipline brings. They are particularly useful for interdisciplinary research projects and uncovering connections between seemingly unrelated fields.
11. Descriptive Review
Descriptive reviews provide an organised summary of existing literature without extensive analysis. They offer a straightforward overview of key findings, research methods, and themes present in the reviewed studies.
12. Rapid Review
Rapid reviews expedite the literature review process, focusing on summarising relevant studies quickly. They are often used for time-sensitive projects where efficiency is a priority, without sacrificing quality.
13. Conceptual Review
Conceptual reviews concentrate on clarifying and developing theoretical concepts within a specific field. They address ambiguities or inconsistencies in existing theories, aiming to refine and expand conceptual frameworks.
14. Library Research
Library research reviews rely primarily on library and archival resources to gather and synthesise information. They are often employed in historical or archive-based research projects, utilising library collections and historical documents for in-depth analysis.
Each type of literature review serves distinct purposes and comes with its own set of strengths and weaknesses, allowing researchers to choose the one that best suits their research objectives and questions.
Choosing the Ideal Literature Review Approach in Academics
In order to conduct your research in the right manner, it is important that you choose the correct type of review for your literature. Here are 8 amazing tips we have sorted for you in regard to literature review help so that you can select the best-suited type for your research.
- Clarify Your Research Goals: Begin by defining your research objectives and what you aim to achieve with the literature review. Are you looking to summarise existing knowledge, identify gaps, or analyse specific data?
- Understand Different Review Types: Familiarise yourself with different kinds of literature reviews, including systematic reviews, narrative reviews, meta-analyses, scoping reviews, and integrative reviews. Each serves a different purpose.
- Consider Available Resources: Assess the resources at your disposal, including time, access to databases, and the volume of literature on your topic. Some review types may be more resource-intensive than others.
- Alignment with Research Question: Ensure that the chosen review type aligns with your research question or hypothesis. Some types are better suited for answering specific research questions than others.
- Scope and Depth: Determine the scope and depth of your review. For a broad overview, a narrative review might be suitable, while a systematic review is ideal for an in-depth analysis.
- Consult with Advisors: Seek guidance from your academic advisors or mentors. They can provide valuable insights into which review type best fits your research goals and resources.
- Consider Research Field Standards: Different academic fields have established standards and preferences for different forms of literature review. Familiarise yourself with what is common and accepted in your field.
- Pilot Review: Consider conducting a small-scale pilot review of the literature to test the feasibility and suitability of your chosen review type before committing to a larger project.
Bonus Tip: Crafting an Effective Literature Review
Now, since you have learned all the literature review types and have understood which one to prefer, here are some bonus tips for you to structure a literature review of a dissertation .
- Clearly Define Your Research Question: Start with a well-defined and focused research question to guide your literature review.
- Thorough Search Strategy: Develop a comprehensive search strategy to ensure you capture all relevant literature.
- Critical Evaluation: Assess the quality and credibility of the sources you include in your review.
- Synthesise and Organise: Summarise the key findings and organise the literature into themes or categories.
- Maintain a Systematic Approach: If conducting a systematic review, adhere to a predefined methodology and reporting guidelines.
- Engage in Continuous Review: Regularly update your literature review to incorporate new research and maintain relevance.
Some Useful Tools And Resources For You
Effective literature reviews demand a range of tools and resources to streamline the process.
- Reference management software like EndNote, Zotero, and Mendeley helps organise, store, and cite sources, saving time and ensuring accuracy.
- Academic databases such as PubMed, Google Scholar, and Web of Science provide access to a vast array of scholarly articles, with advanced search and citation tracking features.
- Research guides from universities and libraries offer tips and templates for structuring reviews.
- Research networks like ResearchGate and Academia.edu facilitate collaboration and access to publications. Literature review templates and research workshops provide additional support.
Some Common Mistakes To Avoid
Avoid these common mistakes when crafting literature reviews.
- Unclear research objectives result in unfocused reviews, so start with well-defined questions.
- Biased source selection can compromise objectivity, so include diverse perspectives.
- Never miss on referencing; proper citation and referencing are essential for academic integrity.
- Don’t overlook older literature, which provides foundational insights.
- Be mindful of scope creep, where the review drifts from the research question; stay disciplined to maintain focus and relevance.
While Summing Up On Various Types Of Literature Review
As we conclude this classification of fourteen distinct approaches to conduct literature reviews, it’s clear that the world of research offers a multitude of avenues for understanding, analysing, and contributing to existing knowledge.
Whether you’re a seasoned scholar or a student beginning your academic journey, the choice of review type should align with your research objectives and the nature of your topic. The versatility of these approaches empowers you to tailor your review to the demands of your project.
Remember, your research endeavours have the potential to shape the future of knowledge, so choose wisely and dive into the world of literature reviews with confidence and purpose. Happy reviewing!
Laura Brown, a senior content writer who writes actionable blogs at Crowd Writer.
Literature Reviews: Types of Literature
- Library Basics
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Types of Literature
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Different types of publications have different characteristics.
Primary Literature Primary sources means original studies, based on direct observation, use of statistical records, interviews, or experimental methods, of actual practices or the actual impact of practices or policies. They are authored by researchers, contains original research data, and are usually published in a peer-reviewed journal. Primary literature may also include conference papers, pre-prints, or preliminary reports. Also called empirical research .
Secondary Literature Secondary literature consists of interpretations and evaluations that are derived from or refer to the primary source literature. Examples include review articles (such as meta-analysis and systematic reviews) and reference works. Professionals within each discipline take the primary literature and synthesize, generalize, and integrate new research.
Tertiary Literature Tertiary literature consists of a distillation and collection of primary and secondary sources such as textbooks, encyclopedia articles, and guidebooks or handbooks. The purpose of tertiary literature is to provide an overview of key research findings and an introduction to principles and practices within the discipline.
Adapted from the Information Services Department of the Library of the Health Sciences-Chicago , University of Illinois at Chicago.
Types of Scientific Publications
These examples and descriptions of publication types will give you an idea of how to use various works and why you would want to write a particular kind of paper.
- Scholarly article aka empirical article
- Review article
- Conference paper
Scholarly (aka empirical) article -- example
Empirical studies use data derived from observation or experiment. Original research papers (also called primary research articles) that describe empirical studies and their results are published in academic journals. Articles that report empirical research contain different sections which relate to the steps of the scientific method.
Abstract - The abstract provides a very brief summary of the research.
Introduction - The introduction sets the research in a context, which provides a review of related research and develops the hypotheses for the research.
Method - The method section describes how the research was conducted.
Results - The results section describes the outcomes of the study.
Discussion - The discussion section contains the interpretations and implications of the study.
References - A references section lists the articles, books, and other material cited in the report.
Review article -- example
A review article summarizes a particular field of study and places the recent research in context. It provides an overview and is an excellent introduction to a subject area. The references used in a review article are helpful as they lead to more in-depth research.
Many databases have limits or filters to search for review articles. You can also search by keywords like review article, survey, overview, summary, etc.
Conference proceedings, abstracts and reports -- example
Conference proceedings, abstracts and reports are not usually peer-reviewed. A conference article is similar to a scholarly article insofar as it is academic. Conference articles are published much more quickly than scholarly articles. You can find conference papers in many of the same places as scholarly articles.
How Do You Identify Empirical Articles?
To identify an article based on empirical research, look for the following characteristics:
The article is published in a peer-reviewed journal .
The article includes charts, graphs, or statistical analysis .
The article is substantial in size , likely to be more than 5 pages long.
The article contains the following parts (the exact terms may vary): abstract, introduction, method, results, discussion, references .
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Ten Simple Rules for Writing a Literature Review
1 Centre for Functional and Evolutionary Ecology (CEFE), CNRS, Montpellier, France
2 Centre for Biodiversity Synthesis and Analysis (CESAB), FRB, Aix-en-Provence, France
Literature reviews are in great demand in most scientific fields. Their need stems from the ever-increasing output of scientific publications  . For example, compared to 1991, in 2008 three, eight, and forty times more papers were indexed in Web of Science on malaria, obesity, and biodiversity, respectively  . Given such mountains of papers, scientists cannot be expected to examine in detail every single new paper relevant to their interests  . Thus, it is both advantageous and necessary to rely on regular summaries of the recent literature. Although recognition for scientists mainly comes from primary research, timely literature reviews can lead to new synthetic insights and are often widely read  . For such summaries to be useful, however, they need to be compiled in a professional way  .
When starting from scratch, reviewing the literature can require a titanic amount of work. That is why researchers who have spent their career working on a certain research issue are in a perfect position to review that literature. Some graduate schools are now offering courses in reviewing the literature, given that most research students start their project by producing an overview of what has already been done on their research issue  . However, it is likely that most scientists have not thought in detail about how to approach and carry out a literature review.
Reviewing the literature requires the ability to juggle multiple tasks, from finding and evaluating relevant material to synthesising information from various sources, from critical thinking to paraphrasing, evaluating, and citation skills  . In this contribution, I share ten simple rules I learned working on about 25 literature reviews as a PhD and postdoctoral student. Ideas and insights also come from discussions with coauthors and colleagues, as well as feedback from reviewers and editors.
Rule 1: Define a Topic and Audience
How to choose which topic to review? There are so many issues in contemporary science that you could spend a lifetime of attending conferences and reading the literature just pondering what to review. On the one hand, if you take several years to choose, several other people may have had the same idea in the meantime. On the other hand, only a well-considered topic is likely to lead to a brilliant literature review  . The topic must at least be:
- interesting to you (ideally, you should have come across a series of recent papers related to your line of work that call for a critical summary),
- an important aspect of the field (so that many readers will be interested in the review and there will be enough material to write it), and
- a well-defined issue (otherwise you could potentially include thousands of publications, which would make the review unhelpful).
Ideas for potential reviews may come from papers providing lists of key research questions to be answered  , but also from serendipitous moments during desultory reading and discussions. In addition to choosing your topic, you should also select a target audience. In many cases, the topic (e.g., web services in computational biology) will automatically define an audience (e.g., computational biologists), but that same topic may also be of interest to neighbouring fields (e.g., computer science, biology, etc.).
Rule 2: Search and Re-search the Literature
After having chosen your topic and audience, start by checking the literature and downloading relevant papers. Five pieces of advice here:
- keep track of the search items you use (so that your search can be replicated  ),
- keep a list of papers whose pdfs you cannot access immediately (so as to retrieve them later with alternative strategies),
- use a paper management system (e.g., Mendeley, Papers, Qiqqa, Sente),
- define early in the process some criteria for exclusion of irrelevant papers (these criteria can then be described in the review to help define its scope), and
- do not just look for research papers in the area you wish to review, but also seek previous reviews.
The chances are high that someone will already have published a literature review ( Figure 1 ), if not exactly on the issue you are planning to tackle, at least on a related topic. If there are already a few or several reviews of the literature on your issue, my advice is not to give up, but to carry on with your own literature review,
The bottom-right situation (many literature reviews but few research papers) is not just a theoretical situation; it applies, for example, to the study of the impacts of climate change on plant diseases, where there appear to be more literature reviews than research studies  .
- discussing in your review the approaches, limitations, and conclusions of past reviews,
- trying to find a new angle that has not been covered adequately in the previous reviews, and
- incorporating new material that has inevitably accumulated since their appearance.
When searching the literature for pertinent papers and reviews, the usual rules apply:
- be thorough,
- use different keywords and database sources (e.g., DBLP, Google Scholar, ISI Proceedings, JSTOR Search, Medline, Scopus, Web of Science), and
- look at who has cited past relevant papers and book chapters.
Rule 3: Take Notes While Reading
If you read the papers first, and only afterwards start writing the review, you will need a very good memory to remember who wrote what, and what your impressions and associations were while reading each single paper. My advice is, while reading, to start writing down interesting pieces of information, insights about how to organize the review, and thoughts on what to write. This way, by the time you have read the literature you selected, you will already have a rough draft of the review.
Of course, this draft will still need much rewriting, restructuring, and rethinking to obtain a text with a coherent argument  , but you will have avoided the danger posed by staring at a blank document. Be careful when taking notes to use quotation marks if you are provisionally copying verbatim from the literature. It is advisable then to reformulate such quotes with your own words in the final draft. It is important to be careful in noting the references already at this stage, so as to avoid misattributions. Using referencing software from the very beginning of your endeavour will save you time.
Rule 4: Choose the Type of Review You Wish to Write
After having taken notes while reading the literature, you will have a rough idea of the amount of material available for the review. This is probably a good time to decide whether to go for a mini- or a full review. Some journals are now favouring the publication of rather short reviews focusing on the last few years, with a limit on the number of words and citations. A mini-review is not necessarily a minor review: it may well attract more attention from busy readers, although it will inevitably simplify some issues and leave out some relevant material due to space limitations. A full review will have the advantage of more freedom to cover in detail the complexities of a particular scientific development, but may then be left in the pile of the very important papers “to be read” by readers with little time to spare for major monographs.
There is probably a continuum between mini- and full reviews. The same point applies to the dichotomy of descriptive vs. integrative reviews. While descriptive reviews focus on the methodology, findings, and interpretation of each reviewed study, integrative reviews attempt to find common ideas and concepts from the reviewed material  . A similar distinction exists between narrative and systematic reviews: while narrative reviews are qualitative, systematic reviews attempt to test a hypothesis based on the published evidence, which is gathered using a predefined protocol to reduce bias  ,  . When systematic reviews analyse quantitative results in a quantitative way, they become meta-analyses. The choice between different review types will have to be made on a case-by-case basis, depending not just on the nature of the material found and the preferences of the target journal(s), but also on the time available to write the review and the number of coauthors  .
Rule 5: Keep the Review Focused, but Make It of Broad Interest
Whether your plan is to write a mini- or a full review, it is good advice to keep it focused 16 , 17 . Including material just for the sake of it can easily lead to reviews that are trying to do too many things at once. The need to keep a review focused can be problematic for interdisciplinary reviews, where the aim is to bridge the gap between fields  . If you are writing a review on, for example, how epidemiological approaches are used in modelling the spread of ideas, you may be inclined to include material from both parent fields, epidemiology and the study of cultural diffusion. This may be necessary to some extent, but in this case a focused review would only deal in detail with those studies at the interface between epidemiology and the spread of ideas.
While focus is an important feature of a successful review, this requirement has to be balanced with the need to make the review relevant to a broad audience. This square may be circled by discussing the wider implications of the reviewed topic for other disciplines.
Rule 6: Be Critical and Consistent
Reviewing the literature is not stamp collecting. A good review does not just summarize the literature, but discusses it critically, identifies methodological problems, and points out research gaps  . After having read a review of the literature, a reader should have a rough idea of:
- the major achievements in the reviewed field,
- the main areas of debate, and
- the outstanding research questions.
It is challenging to achieve a successful review on all these fronts. A solution can be to involve a set of complementary coauthors: some people are excellent at mapping what has been achieved, some others are very good at identifying dark clouds on the horizon, and some have instead a knack at predicting where solutions are going to come from. If your journal club has exactly this sort of team, then you should definitely write a review of the literature! In addition to critical thinking, a literature review needs consistency, for example in the choice of passive vs. active voice and present vs. past tense.
Rule 7: Find a Logical Structure
Like a well-baked cake, a good review has a number of telling features: it is worth the reader's time, timely, systematic, well written, focused, and critical. It also needs a good structure. With reviews, the usual subdivision of research papers into introduction, methods, results, and discussion does not work or is rarely used. However, a general introduction of the context and, toward the end, a recapitulation of the main points covered and take-home messages make sense also in the case of reviews. For systematic reviews, there is a trend towards including information about how the literature was searched (database, keywords, time limits)  .
How can you organize the flow of the main body of the review so that the reader will be drawn into and guided through it? It is generally helpful to draw a conceptual scheme of the review, e.g., with mind-mapping techniques. Such diagrams can help recognize a logical way to order and link the various sections of a review  . This is the case not just at the writing stage, but also for readers if the diagram is included in the review as a figure. A careful selection of diagrams and figures relevant to the reviewed topic can be very helpful to structure the text too  .
Rule 8: Make Use of Feedback
Reviews of the literature are normally peer-reviewed in the same way as research papers, and rightly so  . As a rule, incorporating feedback from reviewers greatly helps improve a review draft. Having read the review with a fresh mind, reviewers may spot inaccuracies, inconsistencies, and ambiguities that had not been noticed by the writers due to rereading the typescript too many times. It is however advisable to reread the draft one more time before submission, as a last-minute correction of typos, leaps, and muddled sentences may enable the reviewers to focus on providing advice on the content rather than the form.
Feedback is vital to writing a good review, and should be sought from a variety of colleagues, so as to obtain a diversity of views on the draft. This may lead in some cases to conflicting views on the merits of the paper, and on how to improve it, but such a situation is better than the absence of feedback. A diversity of feedback perspectives on a literature review can help identify where the consensus view stands in the landscape of the current scientific understanding of an issue  .
Rule 9: Include Your Own Relevant Research, but Be Objective
In many cases, reviewers of the literature will have published studies relevant to the review they are writing. This could create a conflict of interest: how can reviewers report objectively on their own work  ? Some scientists may be overly enthusiastic about what they have published, and thus risk giving too much importance to their own findings in the review. However, bias could also occur in the other direction: some scientists may be unduly dismissive of their own achievements, so that they will tend to downplay their contribution (if any) to a field when reviewing it.
In general, a review of the literature should neither be a public relations brochure nor an exercise in competitive self-denial. If a reviewer is up to the job of producing a well-organized and methodical review, which flows well and provides a service to the readership, then it should be possible to be objective in reviewing one's own relevant findings. In reviews written by multiple authors, this may be achieved by assigning the review of the results of a coauthor to different coauthors.
Rule 10: Be Up-to-Date, but Do Not Forget Older Studies
Given the progressive acceleration in the publication of scientific papers, today's reviews of the literature need awareness not just of the overall direction and achievements of a field of inquiry, but also of the latest studies, so as not to become out-of-date before they have been published. Ideally, a literature review should not identify as a major research gap an issue that has just been addressed in a series of papers in press (the same applies, of course, to older, overlooked studies (“sleeping beauties”  )). This implies that literature reviewers would do well to keep an eye on electronic lists of papers in press, given that it can take months before these appear in scientific databases. Some reviews declare that they have scanned the literature up to a certain point in time, but given that peer review can be a rather lengthy process, a full search for newly appeared literature at the revision stage may be worthwhile. Assessing the contribution of papers that have just appeared is particularly challenging, because there is little perspective with which to gauge their significance and impact on further research and society.
Inevitably, new papers on the reviewed topic (including independently written literature reviews) will appear from all quarters after the review has been published, so that there may soon be the need for an updated review. But this is the nature of science  –  . I wish everybody good luck with writing a review of the literature.
Many thanks to M. Barbosa, K. Dehnen-Schmutz, T. Döring, D. Fontaneto, M. Garbelotto, O. Holdenrieder, M. Jeger, D. Lonsdale, A. MacLeod, P. Mills, M. Moslonka-Lefebvre, G. Stancanelli, P. Weisberg, and X. Xu for insights and discussions, and to P. Bourne, T. Matoni, and D. Smith for helpful comments on a previous draft.
This work was funded by the French Foundation for Research on Biodiversity (FRB) through its Centre for Synthesis and Analysis of Biodiversity data (CESAB), as part of the NETSEED research project. The funders had no role in the preparation of the manuscript.
15 Literature Review Examples
Literature reviews are a necessary step in a research process and often required when writing your research proposal . They involve gathering, analyzing, and evaluating existing knowledge about a topic in order to find gaps in the literature where future studies will be needed.
Ideally, once you have completed your literature review, you will be able to identify how your research project can build upon and extend existing knowledge in your area of study.
Generally, for my undergraduate research students, I recommend a narrative review, where themes can be generated in order for the students to develop sufficient understanding of the topic so they can build upon the themes using unique methods or novel research questions.
For more advanced students and scholars, literature reviews like systematic and meta-analyses may be more fitting, especially if the review is not to identify potential areas of research but to present practical and clinical recommendations based directly upon a reading of the literature.
Literature Review Examples
For the following types of literature review, I present an explanation and overview of the type, followed by links to some real-life literature reviews on the topics.
1. Narrative Review Examples
Also known as a traditional literature review, the narrative review provides a broad overview of the studies done on a particular topic.
It often includes both qualitative and quantitative studies and may cover a wide range of years.
The narrative review’s purpose is to identify commonalities, gaps, and contradictions in the literature .
I recommend to my students that they should gather their studies together, take notes on each study, then try to group them by themes that form the basis for the review (see my step-by-step instructions at the end of the article).
Title: Communication in healthcare: a narrative review of the literature and practical recommendations
Citation: Vermeir, P., Vandijck, D., Degroote, S., Peleman, R., Verhaeghe, R., Mortier, E., … & Vogelaers, D. (2015). Communication in healthcare: a narrative review of the literature and practical recommendations. International journal of clinical practice , 69 (11), 1257-1267.
Overview: This narrative review analyzed themes emerging from 69 articles about communication in healthcare contexts. Five key themes were found in the literature: poor communication can lead to various negative outcomes, discontinuity of care, compromise of patient safety, patient dissatisfaction, and inefficient use of resources. After presenting the key themes, the authors recommend that practitioners need to approach healthcare communication in a more structured way, such as by ensuring there is a clear understanding of who is in charge of ensuring effective communication in clinical settings.
- Burnout in United States Healthcare Professionals: A Narrative Review (Reith, 2018) – read here
- Examining the Presence, Consequences, and Reduction of Implicit Bias in Health Care: A Narrative Review (Zestcott, Blair & Stone, 2016) – read here
- A Narrative Review of School-Based Physical Activity for Enhancing Cognition and Learning (Mavilidi et al., 2018) – read here
- A narrative review on burnout experienced by medical students and residents (Dyrbye & Shanafelt, 2015) – read here
2. Systematic Review Examples
This type of literature review is more structured and rigorous than a narrative review. It involves a detailed and comprehensive plan and search strategy derived from a set of specified research questions.
The key way you’d know a systematic review compared to a narrative review is in the methodology: the systematic review will likely have a very clear criteria for how the studies were collected, and clear explanations of exclusion/inclusion criteria.
The goal is to gather the maximum amount of valid literature on the topic, filter out invalid or low-quality reviews, and minimize bias. Ideally, this will provide more reliable findings, leading to higher-quality conclusions and recommendations for further research.
You may note from the examples below that the ‘method’ sections in systematic reviews tend to be much more explicit, often noting rigid inclusion/exclusion criteria and exact keywords used in searches.
Title: The importance of food naturalness for consumers: Results of a systematic review
Citation: Roman, S., Sánchez-Siles, L. M., & Siegrist, M. (2017). The importance of food naturalness for consumers: Results of a systematic review. Trends in food science & technology , 67 , 44-57.
Overview: This systematic review included 72 studies of food naturalness to explore trends in the literature about its importance for consumers. Keywords used in the data search included: food, naturalness, natural content, and natural ingredients. Studies were included if they examined consumers’ preference for food naturalness and contained empirical data. The authors found that the literature lacks clarity about how naturalness is defined and measured, but also found that food consumption is significantly influenced by perceived naturalness of goods.
- A systematic review of research on online teaching and learning from 2009 to 2018 (Martin, Sun & Westine, 2020) – read here
- Where Is Current Research on Blockchain Technology? (Yli-Huumo et al., 2016) – read here
- Universities—industry collaboration: A systematic review (Ankrah & Al-Tabbaa, 2015) – read here
- Internet of Things Applications: A Systematic Review (Asghari, Rahmani & Javadi, 2019) – read here
This is a type of systematic review that uses statistical methods to combine and summarize the results of several studies.
Due to its robust methodology, a meta-analysis is often considered the ‘gold standard’ of secondary research , as it provides a more precise estimate of a treatment effect than any individual study contributing to the pooled analysis.
Furthermore, by aggregating data from a range of studies, a meta-analysis can identify patterns, disagreements, or other interesting relationships that may have been hidden in individual studies.
This helps to enhance the generalizability of findings, making the conclusions drawn from a meta-analysis particularly powerful and informative for policy and practice.
Title: Cholesterol and Alzheimer’s Disease Risk: A Meta-Meta-Analysis
Citation: Sáiz-Vazquez, O., Puente-Martínez, A., Ubillos-Landa, S., Pacheco-Bonrostro, J., & Santabárbara, J. (2020). Cholesterol and Alzheimer’s disease risk: a meta-meta-analysis. Brain sciences, 10(6), 386.
O verview: This study examines the relationship between cholesterol and Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Researchers conducted a systematic search of meta-analyses and reviewed several databases, collecting 100 primary studies and five meta-analyses to analyze the connection between cholesterol and Alzheimer’s disease. They find that the literature compellingly demonstrates that low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) levels significantly influence the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
- The power of feedback revisited: A meta-analysis of educational feedback research (Wisniewski, Zierer & Hattie, 2020) – read here
- How Much Does Education Improve Intelligence? A Meta-Analysis (Ritchie & Tucker-Drob, 2018) – read here
- A meta-analysis of factors related to recycling (Geiger et al., 2019) – read here
- Stress management interventions for police officers and recruits (Patterson, Chung & Swan, 2014) – read here
Other Types of Reviews
- Scoping Review: This type of review is used to map the key concepts underpinning a research area and the main sources and types of evidence available. It can be undertaken as stand-alone projects in their own right, or as a precursor to a systematic review.
- Rapid Review: This type of review accelerates the systematic review process in order to produce information in a timely manner. This is achieved by simplifying or omitting stages of the systematic review process.
- Integrative Review: This review method is more inclusive than others, allowing for the simultaneous inclusion of experimental and non-experimental research. The goal is to more comprehensively understand a particular phenomenon.
- Critical Review: This is similar to a narrative review but requires a robust understanding of both the subject and the existing literature. In a critical review, the reviewer not only summarizes the existing literature, but also evaluates its strengths and weaknesses. This is common in the social sciences and humanities .
- State-of-the-Art Review: This considers the current level of advancement in a field or topic and makes recommendations for future research directions. This type of review is common in technological and scientific fields but can be applied to any discipline.
How to Write a Narrative Review (Tips for Undergrad Students)
Most undergraduate students conducting a capstone research project will be writing narrative reviews. Below is a five-step process for conducting a simple review of the literature for your project.
- Search for Relevant Literature: Use scholarly databases related to your field of study, provided by your university library, along with appropriate search terms to identify key scholarly articles that have been published on your topic.
- Evaluate and Select Sources: Filter the source list by selecting studies that are directly relevant and of sufficient quality, considering factors like credibility , objectivity, accuracy, and validity.
- Analyze and Synthesize: Review each source and summarize the main arguments in one paragraph (or more, for postgrad). Keep these summaries in a table.
- Identify Themes: With all studies summarized, group studies that share common themes, such as studies that have similar findings or methodologies.
- Write the Review: Write your review based upon the themes or subtopics you have identified. Give a thorough overview of each theme, integrating source data, and conclude with a summary of the current state of knowledge then suggestions for future research based upon your evaluation of what is lacking in the literature.
Literature reviews don’t have to be as scary as they seem. Yes, they are difficult and require a strong degree of comprehension of academic studies. But it can be feasibly done through following a structured approach to data collection and analysis. With my undergraduate research students (who tend to conduct small-scale qualitative studies ), I encourage them to conduct a narrative literature review whereby they can identify key themes in the literature. Within each theme, students can critique key studies and their strengths and limitations , in order to get a lay of the land and come to a point where they can identify ways to contribute new insights to the existing academic conversation on their topic.
Ankrah, S., & Omar, A. T. (2015). Universities–industry collaboration: A systematic review. Scandinavian Journal of Management, 31(3), 387-408.
Asghari, P., Rahmani, A. M., & Javadi, H. H. S. (2019). Internet of Things applications: A systematic review. Computer Networks , 148 , 241-261.
Dyrbye, L., & Shanafelt, T. (2016). A narrative review on burnout experienced by medical students and residents. Medical education , 50 (1), 132-149.
Geiger, J. L., Steg, L., Van Der Werff, E., & Ünal, A. B. (2019). A meta-analysis of factors related to recycling. Journal of environmental psychology , 64 , 78-97.
Martin, F., Sun, T., & Westine, C. D. (2020). A systematic review of research on online teaching and learning from 2009 to 2018. Computers & education , 159 , 104009.
Mavilidi, M. F., Ruiter, M., Schmidt, M., Okely, A. D., Loyens, S., Chandler, P., & Paas, F. (2018). A narrative review of school-based physical activity for enhancing cognition and learning: The importance of relevancy and integration. Frontiers in psychology , 2079.
Patterson, G. T., Chung, I. W., & Swan, P. W. (2014). Stress management interventions for police officers and recruits: A meta-analysis. Journal of experimental criminology , 10 , 487-513.
Reith, T. P. (2018). Burnout in United States healthcare professionals: a narrative review. Cureus , 10 (12).
Ritchie, S. J., & Tucker-Drob, E. M. (2018). How much does education improve intelligence? A meta-analysis. Psychological science , 29 (8), 1358-1369.
Roman, S., Sánchez-Siles, L. M., & Siegrist, M. (2017). The importance of food naturalness for consumers: Results of a systematic review. Trends in food science & technology , 67 , 44-57.
Sáiz-Vazquez, O., Puente-Martínez, A., Ubillos-Landa, S., Pacheco-Bonrostro, J., & Santabárbara, J. (2020). Cholesterol and Alzheimer’s disease risk: a meta-meta-analysis. Brain sciences, 10(6), 386.
Vermeir, P., Vandijck, D., Degroote, S., Peleman, R., Verhaeghe, R., Mortier, E., … & Vogelaers, D. (2015). Communication in healthcare: a narrative review of the literature and practical recommendations. International journal of clinical practice , 69 (11), 1257-1267.
Wisniewski, B., Zierer, K., & Hattie, J. (2020). The power of feedback revisited: A meta-analysis of educational feedback research. Frontiers in Psychology , 10 , 3087.
Yli-Huumo, J., Ko, D., Choi, S., Park, S., & Smolander, K. (2016). Where is current research on blockchain technology?—a systematic review. PloS one , 11 (10), e0163477.
Zestcott, C. A., Blair, I. V., & Stone, J. (2016). Examining the presence, consequences, and reduction of implicit bias in health care: a narrative review. Group Processes & Intergroup Relations , 19 (4), 528-542
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Types of Literature Review
There are different types of literature reviews . Let’s take a look at the most common ones that are used in the process of teaching the business industry.
Narrative Literature Review
It represents an extensive, completely unbiased description of the information space, with a touch of criticism. It helps define the theory of your student work, and also provides direction, context, and message. Such an overview serves as a good indicator of logical motives and themes in the texts. You can identify inaccuracies and omissions of some factors in the literary text using this type of review. Also, it is possible to point out the lack of knowledge and low information content. This type of work can also be called as a traditional review.
It makes possible to generalize the size of a literary work and subject it to constructive criticism. Also, you can make general judgments about the content and point out shortcomings in awareness of a particular topic. To conduct a narrative review, you need to accurately identify the research issue.
Argumentative Literature Review
This type of work produces a selective study of the literature. It can confirm or, on the contrary, does not agree with the statement or the put forward theory in the literary text. The main negative feature of an argumentative review is a kind of subjectivity in conclusions.
Thanks to this type of research, selective acquaintance with the literature occurs, which helps to decide whether it is worth accepting or refuting the theory put forward in the text. The main message and task of this method are to create a collection of literature, which shows a different vision of the problem. Often, this type of review is a fairly valuable unit and can be used in discourse and serious social areas such as educational reform and immigration control. But do not forget about the subjective component of the argumentative review.
Systematic Literature Review
This type of review is characterized by a clear framework and specific approaches to the study area. This is its main difference from all the remaining reviews. Systematization and strict adherence to all points are the main features of this type of paper. A systematic review of the literature has the peculiarity of a global study, as well as an accurate concretization of the period for which the necessary literature was selected. A systematic literature review is divided into 2 types – meta-synthesis and meta-analysis.
When performing a meta-analysis, the indicators of two or more studies are used in the same area. Their analysis, study, and description are carried out using the established algorithm of actions. This type of research has features of a deductive method. During a meta-analysis of the literature, connections and consistency are identified, and conclusions are drawn from the research.
In turn, meta-synthesis takes non-statistical methods of research as a basis. Namely, an inductive approach to review. It can assist in evaluating, comparing, combining, and decoding the results of several works.
A systematic review helps to make a qualitative selection, characterize the work from a critical point of view, and find the answer to the question posed. This type of review requires a clear plan of action. All work must be carried out following established rules and regulations. A systematic review can serve as a basis for further research and other reviews because it is transparent and extensive. But for this, you must have a clear structure, plan, and general idea of your work. A well-thought-out review strategy, search terms, and restrictions are essential.
Integrative Literature Review
This type of research is a comprehensive review, characterization, and criticism of the secondary data of the research subject. Thus, fresh plans and boundaries are formed. An integrated review is suitable for conducting research that does not involve the accumulation of information and its assessment.
An integrative literature review is an analysis in which new knowledge and information are generated in a particular area. There are no precise and clear guidelines for writing this type of review. But we suggest you look through the examples of ready-made reviews, for a better understanding of the essence of this analysis and its contribution to the knowledge base on human resource development.
These types of reviews are based on the analysis of scientific papers over a specific time frame. This usually happens when a theory, concept, problem, and phenomenon first appear in the literature. They are evaluated and monitored. Their development and distribution are being studied. The main idea of the historical overview is to place the learning process in a historical context, which will be very useful for subsequent research and development.
Theoretical Literature Review
A literary review of theoretical literature focuses on the unity of all concepts obtained and accumulated about a problem in a particular area. Such a review is very important for the systematization of already known existing theories, and different types of literature review, as well as for establishing connections between them. Thanks to the review of theoretical literature, it becomes possible to create modern methods and theories in the study of issues. The main difference between this type of review and the empirical one is the absence of a practical component and the focus on the theoretical aspects of science. Thanks to the theoretical review, it becomes possible to create new theories and methods of study.
To carry out a theoretical review, it is necessary to be well aware of existing research methods on a global, national, and local scale. At the end of the review, you will receive a conclusion and find out what gaps in knowledge were allowed.
When developing a literature review plan, you need to decide on the type of literature review, specify it, and explain your choice. It should be based on the field of research, on the type of issues and methods.
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What is a Lit Review?
How to write a lit review.
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Examples of lit reviews, additional resources.
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What is a literature review?
- Either a complete piece of writing unto itself or a section of a larger piece of writing like a book or article
- A thorough and critical look at the information and perspectives that other experts and scholars have written about a specific topic
- A way to give historical perspective on an issue and show how other researchers have addressed a problem
- An analysis of sources based on your own perspective on the topic
- Based on the most pertinent and significant research conducted in the field, both new and old
- A descriptive list or collection of summaries of other research without synthesis or analysis
- An annotated bibliography
- A literary review (a brief, critical discussion about the merits and weaknesses of a literary work such as a play, novel or a book of poems)
- Exhaustive; the objective is not to list as many relevant books, articles, reports as possible
- To convey to your reader what knowledge and ideas have been established on a topic
- To explain what the strengths and weaknesses of that knowledge and those ideas might be
- To learn how others have defined and measured key concepts
- To keep the writer/reader up to date with current developments and historical trends in a particular field or discipline
- To establish context for the argument explored in the rest of a paper
- To provide evidence that may be used to support your own findings
- To demonstrate your understanding and your ability to critically evaluate research in the field
- To suggest previously unused or underused methodologies, designs, and quantitative and qualitative strategies
- To identify gaps in previous studies and flawed methodologies and/or theoretical approaches in order to avoid replication of mistakes
- To help the researcher avoid repetition of earlier research
- To suggest unexplored populations
- To determine whether past studies agree or disagree and identify strengths and weaknesses on both sides of a controversy in the literature
- Choose a topic that is interesting to you; this makes the research and writing process more enjoyable and rewarding.
- For a literature review, you'll also want to make sure that the topic you choose is one that other researchers have explored before so that you'll be able to find plenty of relevant sources to review.
- Your research doesn't need to be exhaustive. Pay careful attention to bibliographies. Focus on the most frequently cited literature about your topic and literature from the best known scholars in your field. Ask yourself: "Does this source make a significant contribution to the understanding of my topic?"
- Reading other literature reviews from your field may help you get ideas for themes to look for in your research. You can usually find some of these through the library databases by adding literature review as a keyword in your search.
- Start with the most recent publications and work backwards. This way, you ensure you have the most current information, and it becomes easier to identify the most seminal earlier sources by reviewing the material that current researchers are citing.
The organization of your lit review should be determined based on what you'd like to highlight from your research. Here are a few suggestions:
- Chronology : Discuss literature in chronological order of its writing/publication to demonstrate a change in trends over time or to detail a history of controversy in the field or of developments in the understanding of your topic.
- Theme: Group your sources by subject or theme to show the variety of angles from which your topic has been studied. This works well if, for example, your goal is to identify an angle or subtopic that has so far been overlooked by researchers.
- Methodology: Grouping your sources by methodology (for example, dividing the literature into qualitative vs. quantitative studies or grouping sources according to the populations studied) is useful for illustrating an overlooked population, an unused or underused methodology, or a flawed experimental technique.
- Be selective. Highlight only the most important and relevant points from a source in your review.
- Use quotes sparingly. Short quotes can help to emphasize a point, but thorough analysis of language from each source is generally unnecessary in a literature review.
- Synthesize your sources. Your goal is not to make a list of summaries of each source but to show how the sources relate to one another and to your own work.
- Make sure that your own voice and perspective remains front and center. Don't rely too heavily on summary or paraphrasing. For each source, draw a conclusion about how it relates to your own work or to the other literature on your topic.
- Be objective. When you identify a disagreement in the literature, be sure to represent both sides. Don't exclude a source simply on the basis that it does not support your own research hypothesis.
- At the end of your lit review, make suggestions for future research. What subjects, populations, methodologies, or theoretical lenses warrant further exploration? What common flaws or biases did you identify that could be corrected in future studies?
- Double check that you've correctly cited each of the sources you've used in the citation style requested by your professor (APA, MLA, etc.) and that your lit review is formatted according to the guidelines for that style.
Your literature review should:
- Be focused on and organized around your topic.
- Synthesize your research into a summary of what is and is not known about your topic.
- Identify any gaps or areas of controversy in the literature related to your topic.
- Suggest questions that require further research.
- Have your voice and perspective at the forefront rather than merely summarizing others' work.
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- Literature Review Tutorials and Samples - Wilson Library at University of La Verne
- Literature Reviews: Introduction - University Library at Georgia State
- Literature Reviews - The Writing Center at UNC Chapel Hill
- Writing a Literature Review - Boston College Libraries
- Write a Literature Review - University Library at UC Santa Cruz
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Systematic Reviews & Evidence Synthesis Methods
Types of reviews.
- Formulate Question
- Find Existing Reviews & Protocols
- Searching Systematically
- Supplementary Searching
- Managing Results
- Glossary of terms
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Not sure what type of review you want to conduct?
There are many types of reviews --- narrative reviews , scoping reviews , systematic reviews, integrative reviews, umbrella reviews, and others --- and it's not always straightforward to choose which type of review to conduct. These Review Navigator tools (see below) ask a series of questions to guide you through the various kinds of reviews and determine the best choice for your research needs.
- Which review is right for you? (Univ. of Manitoba)
- What type of review is right for you? (Cornell)
- Review Ready Reckoner - Assessment Tool (RRRsAT)
- A typology of reviews: an analysis of 14 review types and associated methodologies. by Grant & Booth
Reproduced from Grant MJ, Booth A. A typology of reviews: an analysis of 14 review types and associated methodologies . Health Info Libr J. 2009 Jun;26(2):91-108. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-1842.2009.00848.x
- Last Updated: Nov 13, 2023 6:23 AM
- URL: https://guides.lib.utexas.edu/systematicreviews