A literature review is a discussion of published information focused on a particular subject area or research question that identifies, appraises, selects and synthesizes research evidence relevant to the question.
Systematic reviews are a type of literature review of evidence-based medicine. Systematic reviews are not limited to medicine and are common in all other sciences where data are collected, published in the literature, and an assessment of methodological quality for a precisely defined subject would be helpful.
When do researchers conduct literature reviews?
1. To write a review paper
2. Write the introduction / or discussion of a research paper
3. Start a new area of research
4. Write a research proposal.
What is the function of a literature review?
1. Summarize the literature
2. Evaluate the literature
3. Show relationships between difference studies
4. In a research proposal show how published work relates to your work.
Reviews must be:
Accurate: citations correct, findings attributed to authors correct.
Complete: include all important papers -- not every paper on the topic.
Which literature to include?
Articles: most up-to-date but can be 2-5 years old.
Internet Sources: use only referred electronic journals
Conference Proceedings: the latest research but not yet published.
Government & corporate Reports: good for commissioned research
Theses and Dissertations: limit use, researcher may be inexperienced.
Books: may be less up to date, but can be comprehensive and a good starting point.
1. Understand what a literature review is a survey of scholarly articles, books and other sources (e.g. dissertations, conference proceedings) relevant to a particular issue, area of research, or theory, providing a description, summary, and critical evaluation of each work. The purpose is to offer an overview of significant literature published on a topic.
Similar to primary research, development of the literature review has four stages:
Literature reviews should include the following elements:
In assessing each piece, consideration should be given to:
3. Definition and Use/Purpose
A literature review may be a chapter of a thesis or dissertation, or may be a self-contained review of writings on a subject. In either case, its purpose is to:
The literature review itself, however, does not present new primary scholarship.
Step 1: Define your research topic and questions
Problems to be addressed by the review should be in clear, structured questions.
Step 2: Identify relevant work
Search multiple resources for studies without language restrictions. Study selection should flow from the review questions and be specified a priori. Reasons for inclusion and exclusion should be recorded.
Step 3: Assess the quality of studies
Study quality assessment is relevant to every step of a review.
Question formulation and study selection criteria should describe the minimum acceptable level of design.
Step 4: Summarize the evidence
Data synthesis consists of study characteristics, quality and effects and the use of statistical methods for exploring differences between studies and combining their effects.
Step 5: Interpret the findings
Be careful of bias. Exploration for heterogeneity should help determine whether the overall summary can be trusted, and, if not, the effects observed in high-quality studies should be used for generating inferences.
1. Trying to read everything - read the most relevant
2. Read but not write: write and write many drafts
3. Not keeping bibliographic information!!
4. Organize your review chronologically - organize by IDEAS>
1. What do we know about the area of inquiry? key concepts, factors, variables
2. What are the relationships between key concepts, factors variables?
3. What are the current theories?
4. What are the inconsistencies and other problems?
5. What need further testing because evidence is lacking, inconclusive, contradictory, limited?
6. What design or methods are faulty?
7. Why study this question further?
8. What conclusion will your work make?