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Development Practice: Literature Reviews

Resources for students in UC Berkeley's Master of Development Practice program

What is a scientific literature review?

Not to be confused with a book review, a literature review surveys 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.
Ten Simple Rules for doing a Systemic Review. Pautasso, Marco. PLoS Computational Biology 9.7 (2013): e1003149. PMC. Web. 27 July 2016.

Ten Steps for Writing a Literature Review:

1. Define a topic and audience: limit the scope of the literature review.
Limitations of Study
Specify precisely your research topic, specify limitations on the research.
Limiting, for example, by time, personnel, gender, age, location, nationality etc. results in a more focused and meaningful topic.

Scope of the Literature Review
It is important to determine the precise scope of the literature review.
For example,

  • what exactly will you cover in your review?
  • How comprehensive will it be?
  • How long? About how many citations will you use?
  • How detailed? Will it be a review of ALL relevant material or will the scope be limited to more recent material, e.g., the last five years.
  • Are you focusing on methodological approaches; on theoretical issues; on qualitative or quantitative research?
  • Will you broaden your search to seek literature in related disciplines?
  • Will you confine your reviewed material to English language only or will you include research in other languages too?

2. Search and Re-Search the Literature:

  • keep track of databases and search items
  • keep a list of papers and pdfs,
  • use a management system: Refworks, EndNote, Mendeley
  • define criteria for exclusion
  • use reviews

3. Take NOTES while reading

4. Choose the type of review to write:

  • Mini-review: shorter in length, cover a specific time frame, or narrow subject area
  • Full review: longer, deeper coverage includes details.
  • Descriptive: focuses on methodology, findings, interpretation
  • Integrative: attempt to find common ideas and concepts.

5. Keep the review focused, but broad interest. (could discuss other disciplines affected)

6. Be Critical and consistent: 
A reader should have an idea of
 - The major achievements in the reviewed field.
 - The areas of debate.
 - The outstanding research questions.

7. Find a logical structure.

It can be helpful to use a mind-map to draw a conceptual scheme of the review.

Image result for mind-map for nutrition literature review

8. Make use of feedback. Can be peer-reviewed or someone reading a draft.

9. Include your own relevant research but be objective.

10. Be Up-to-date, do not forget older studies.

Original by Marco Pautasso. PLOS. July 2013, vol. 9, issue 7.

AVOID these traps:

  • Trying to read everything: try to read the most relevant work instead.
  • Reading not writing: writing is a way of thinking, - write many drafts.
  • Reminder: Review papers can have abstracts and illustrations.
  • Failing to keep bibliographic information: remember that you will be writing a page entitled “References” at some point.
  • Organizing your review chronologically: Organize your paper by ideas.

Questions:  Your Librarian, Susan Koskinen,

Find Literature and Systematic Reviews

Annual Reviews
Each article provides essential primary research literature referenced within each topic.

BIOSIS Previews
Limit to literature reviews in left menu.
Coverage: 1926 - present

Cochrane Library
Databases of evidence to inform decision-making.
Coverage:  date varies | Some full text

Key resource for conducting systematic reviews and researching evidence-based medicine.
Coverage: dates vary

Literature Reviews: Standards

PRISMA: Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses. It is an evidence-based minimum set of items for reporting in systematic reviews and meta-analyses

Cochran: Cochrane Reviews are seen as exemplifying best practice in the quality of both their conduct and reporting. To maintain this position we need to improve and maintain the quality of our output as standards and expectations for systematic reviews increase generally; we also need to ens Cochrane Review Groups (CRGs) and all reviews. To this end we have undertaken within The Cochrane Collaboration to define Methodological Expectations for Cochrane Intervention Reviews (MECIR).

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