Literature Reviews: Introduction
- Library Basics
- 1. Choose Your Topic
- How to Find Books
- Types of Clinical Study Designs
- Types of Literature
- 3. Search the Literature
- 4. Read & Analyze the Literature
- 5. Write the Review
- Keeping Track of Information
- Style Guides
- Books, Tutorials & Examples
What IS a Literature Review?
A literature review does not present an original argument . The purpose is to offer an overview of what is known about the topic and to evaluate the strength of the evidence on that topic . It usually contains a summary, a synthesis, or an analysis of the key arguments in the existing literature. The literature may come from books, articles, reports, or other formats. Sources may even contradict each other. A literature review also helps distinguish what research has been done and identify what needs further research
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Literature Review vs. Research Paper vs. Annotated Bibliography
A literature review :
- Shares experts' various thoughts, ideas and viewpoints about a topic within your field
- Summarizes arguments from various sources pointing out strengths and weaknesses of their arguments
- Sources may contradict each other
A research paper :
- Presents a single thought, idea or argument about a topic
- Explains or argues an idea using research that supports a single conclusion
- Sources used generally support each other
An annotated bibliography :
- Lists citations to books, articles, and documents with each citation followed by a brief descriptive and evaluative paragraph. See Purdue OWL for further information.
What is it That You Review?
You will review...
- The current status of the knowledge or research about a topic, question or field
- The theoretical approach(es) used in studying this particular topic or question
- The data collection tools and procedures used and their implications on the body of knowledge
- The future direction(s) on a topic in terms of theory, methodology, questions for further study, and so on
Types of Literature Reviews
Traditional or narrative literature review
- Critiques and summarizes a body of literature
- Draws conclusions about the topic
- Identifies gaps or inconsistencies in a body of knowledge
- Requires a sufficiently focused research question
Systematic literature review
- More rigorous and well-defined approach
- Published and unpublished studies relating to a particular subject area
- Details the time frame within which the literature was selected
- Details the methods used to evaluate and synthesize findings of the studies in question
- A form of systematic review (reductive)
- Takes findings from several studies on the same subject and analyzes them using standardized statistical procedures
- Integrates findings from a large body of quantitative findings to enhance under-standing (study=unit of analysis)
- Draws conclusions and detect patterns and relationships
From the University of Toledo .
Steps in the Literature Review
Ask a Librarian!
Health professions librarian.
Thanks to these folks for background info and LibGuides templates.
Boston College University Libraries
Bowie State University
Doing a Literature Review in Health and Social Care: A Practical Guide . By Helen Aveyard.
Writing narrative literature reviews for peer-reviewed journals: secrets of the trade. Green B, Johnson C, Adams A. Journal Of Chiropractic Medicine . September 2006;5(3):101-117.
University of the Pacific Research Guide
Victoria University Research Guide
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ACAP Library Pathfinder: Literature Review
- What is a Literature Review?
- Examples of Literature Reviews
- The Research Question
Types of Literature
- How to Search
- Recording the Search
- Reference Management
- Evaluating the Literature
Your research question or thesis statement will inform the types of literature that will best suit the review. There are many different types literature and they come from a variety of sources. The resources described below provide you with a general outline of the types of literature available via the library. Go to the Choosing Resources page in the Information Skills guide to learn more about where and how to find these resources in the library and on the internet.
Some edited books, journal articles, theses and government publications will employ research paradigms and methodologies to support a hypothesis. Methodologies can be broadly categorised as longitudinal, qualitative or quantitative. Many of these publications are peer-reviewed, meaning they have been checked by a panel of experts before publication. Most library databases offer a peer-reviewed checkbox which will filter search results in this way. They will also allow you to filter results according to research methodology, focus group, geographical location and much more. Research literature is an essential component of your literature review.
Literature that is informed and tested by research, these books, articles and reference sources will attempt to explain, describe, define and provide a background or theoretical framework for a field of inquiry. These sources may include the original works of primary theorists as well as works which build upon, critique and discuss these primary sources while connecting it to the latest research. This type of literature is also an important component of any literature review.
Information sources such as books and articles, which deal with the underlying beliefs, attitudes and concepts that form the basic assumptions or building blocks within a profession or field of study. This kind of literature formulates critical inquiry from either an ethical, epistemological, metaphysical or logical standpoint. The extent to which you use philosophical literature will depend on the focus and subject matter of your review but it may be useful when constructing a background or theoretical base in your writing.
Empirical or Practice-based Literature
Types of Resources
- FILM & VIDEO
- NEWS & MAGAZINES
- REFERENCE SOURCES
- CONFERENCES & THESES
- GOVERNMENT & POLICIES
Provide an overview of a subject area or of a number of related topics. They may also include detailed information about a specific topic or topics. Search for print books using MultiSearch . These items may be collected from library shelves or requested from other campuses. eBooks are searchable from MultiSearch or A-Z Databases and may be read online or downloaded to any PC or device.
Use books to gather comprehensive information on a topic. In the library, you will find mostly academic, non-fiction items which may be used in your assessment tasks to sketch out an overview on a subject or to illustrate an in-depth understanding.
- Essentials of Psychology Concepts and Applications
- Addiction: Psychology and Treatment
Journal publications, sometimes called periodicals or serials, contain articles which offer research, reports, reviews, letters and other papers on specific topics. They are usually published weekly, monthly, quarterly or yearly. Academic publications are often peer-reviewed and as such provide up-to-date information from authorised sources. Search for journal articles via MultiSearch and A-Z Databases . Search for journal publications using A-Z Journals . You can also search for articles on the internet via Google Scholar or Researchgate .
Journal articles can provide you with more up-to-date information on specific aspects of a topic, and in smaller more digestible packages than books. Use journal publications to access scholarly research on a topic, often from a unique or new perspective.
- International Journal of Clinical & Health Psychology
- Khan, F., Chong, J., Theisen, J., Fraley, R., Young, J., & Hankin, B. (2020). Development and Change in Attachment: A Multiwave Assessment of Attachment and Its Correlates Across Childhood and Adolescence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology , 118 (6), 1188–1206. https://doi.org/10.1037/pspi0000211
Audiovisual material in the form of DVDs, podcasts, online streaming and so on, is searchable from MultiSearch or A-Z Databases . Videos in the library include movies, conferences and seminars, tutorials, documentaries and much more.
AV items may be used as instructional material or gain an understanding of a topic by way of visual or concrete examples.
- Narrative Family Therapy
- Waltz with Bashir
News items are published at regular intervals and provide new information about various topics of interest to the general public. Magazines are also produced regularly and may focus on a particular subject area or cover a range of topics, again for consumption by the general public. The information within news publications and magazines are not in themselves scholarly works but may refer to academic sources. These sources can be found by searching MultiSearch or A-Z Databases
To access recent or new information about current affairs, social, economic or political issues which provide an overview or introduction in digestible and readable packages. While not scholarly information, these resources may be required for use in particular assessment tasks or point towards recent research in a particular field.
- Australia targeted in cyber crime increase
- New Scientist
- Search for news on Google
Reference items such as dictionaries, encyclopaedias, handbooks and industry standards provide an overview of a subject area, or include specific definitions, technical or practical information. They are searchable via MultiSearch and A-Z Databases . Reference works at ACAP cover a range of topics including but not limited to sociology, social work and philosophy, psychology, counselling and mental illness, legal materials and policies, diagnoses, drug overviews, care planning and best practices for healthcare workers.
Useful for a broad understanding of a topic, theory or theorist or for assessment tasks which require technical or practical information about a particular industry or field of inquiry.
- Evidence-Based Policy
- Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders : DSM-5
A website is a set of related and interlinked pages which are hosted on the World Wide Web (WWW). A webpage refers to the individual pages contained within these sites. To search the WWW, download an internet browser (we recommend Google Chrome) and use a search engine such as Google to find content.
The websites of particular institutions and government departments may be useful for your assessment tasks. You might also want to look at scholarly sites, such as Google Scholar, Researchgate, State Libraries, academic publishers and journal indexing services, to find the most scholarly information on the Web. Links recommended by the library can be found on the Useful Websites page.
- Google Scholar
- Dulwich Centre Resources
Conference papers are presented at conferences which are usually themed around a specific subject area or set of related topics and presented as a collection of proceedings. Some papers may be peer-reviewed and are searchable from MultiSearch , within journal databases , Dissertation Express or via Libraries Australia Trove database . A thesis or dissertation involves personal research, written by a candidate for an advanced university degree. Theses are also searchable from MultiSearch , Trove , or within individual academic institutional repositories and indexing databases such as PQDT Open , NDLTD , CORE and DART .
Conference proceedings and theses can provide you with an in-depth look at some of the latest research on specific aspects of a topic.
- Counselor education: A personal growth & personal development experience
- Awareness of memory deficits in Parkinson’s disease
Legal resources include documents such as, but not limited to Bills, Acts, regulations, statutory laws, by-laws, proceedings of Parliament, legal cases and tribunal decisions. Some of these resources may be found by searching MultiSearch , in databases such as AustLII or JADE or within legislative sites for individual states and territories. You will also find cases and tribunal decisions on the websites of regulatory authorities such as AHPRA .
Use these information sources when you need to refer to current laws, records, cases and decisions in your assessment tasks.
- AustLII Cases & Legislation
- Library Resources for Criminology & Justice: Law & Legislation
Government policies, reports, gazettes, media releases and parliamentary publications such as Hansards, are available from various websites here in Australia. You can also search Google to find individual publications. MultiSearch and journal databases will include some government papers and reports in search results. However, you should also directly consult federal and state departments and agencies, Libraries Australia GovPubs, the Analysis and Policy Observatory and State and Federal Parliamentary libraries.
Use these sources in your assessment tasks to access up-to-date and authoritative information on subject areas which may be affected by Federal or State government.
- Domestic and family violence and parenting: mixed method insights into impact and support needs - final report
- National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research
Statistical reports and data from sites such as the Australian Bureau of Statistics gather information for a particular field of research or to report on the views and habits of the population. Data collection may be performed via interviews, questionnaires, surveys, censuses and so on. You'll also be able to search for and access statistical information using MultiSearch and journal databases . Other important sites for statistics include the Australian Institute of Family Studies , Australian Institute of Health & Welfare and HILDA .
An important part of the research in any field of study, statistical reporting and datasets are useful for description, analysis and comparison in your assessment tasks.
- 4329.0.00.003 - Patterns of Use of Mental Health Services and Prescription Medications, 2011
- Parent-child contact after separation
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- Staff portal
Systematic style literature reviews for education and social sciences
- Different types of literature review
- Developing the research question
- Search strategies
- Recording your systematic searching
- Systematic reading of the literature
- Writing your systematic literature review
- Software tools
- Citing your sources
What is a systematic style literature review
A systematic literature review is a method to review relevant literature in your field through a highly rigorous and 'systematic' process. The process of undertaking a systematic literature review covers not only the content found in the literature but the methods used to find the literature, what search strategies you used, and how and where you searched. A systematic literature review also, importantly, focuses on the criteria you have used to evaluate the literature found for inclusion or exclusion in the review. Like any literature review, a systematic literature review is undertaken to give you a broad understanding of your topic area, to show you what work has already been done in the subject area, and what research methods and theories are being used. The literature review will help you find your research gap and direct your research.
A literature review "...creates a firm foundation for advancing knowledge. A successful literature review facilitates theory development, closes areas where a plethora of research exists, and uncovers areas where research is needed" (Webster & Watson, 2002, p.8). Fink (2014, p.3) describes a systematic literature review as a "systematic, explicit and reproducible method for identifying, evaluating and synthesizing the existing body of completed and recorded work produced by researchers, scholars and practitioners".
The purpose of your literature review will be to build a knowledge base for your research. The knowledge base will help direct your research, assist with research gap analysis, and give you a strong platform to direct original research to address any gaps and support your hypothesis.
A systematic literature review differs from other styles of literature review as it applies a much higher level of methodology to the process. The EPPI-Centre is a research centre at the University College London. They state the key features of a systematic literature review are:
- its use of explicit and transparent methods
- its adherence to following a standard set of research stages
- its requirement that the review is accountable, replicable and up-dateable
- its requirement of user involvement to ensure reports are relevant and useful
Systematic literature reviews aim to find as much relevant research on a particular research question as possible, by using explicit methods to identify what can reliably be said on the basis of these studies. Methods should be explicit and systematic with the aim of producing varied and reliable results. In this way, systematic reviews reduce the bias that can occur in other approaches to reviewing research evidence (EPPI 2015).
There are three principal reasons to undertake a systematic approach to literature reviews: clarity , validity and auditability (Booth, Papaionannou & Sutton 2012).
A focused research question and explicit search strategies help to clarify considerations of scope and terminology (Booth, Papaionannou & Sutton 2012, p. 23).
In this case, clarity means that the review should have a defined structure, document methods and document the searching process. This will allow for easy navigation and interpretation of the literature search. It will also allow others to understand what you have done and why certain research materials have been included while others have been excluded. It is recommended that you are very clear in what you are trying to achieve with your literature review. Keep the review focused and show each step of your methodology so the reader can follow your arguments and see where you are going and why.
For a literature review to be a valid research output, it should seek to be unbiased regarding the literature that is reviewed. When crafting a literature review you need to be mindful to include a range of voices to show clear reasoning behind the inclusion of particular papers and theories. Pitfalls to be aware of and/or avoid in your review process include:
- selection bias - only including materials that support your hypothesis or personal ideology
- publication bias - an over-reliance on a particular database or set of journals for your materials.
To avoid publication bias, be sure to search a wide range of resources for the materials you include in your literature review.
Auditability, a key feature of a systematic literature review, pertains to the keeping of accurate records of your systematic search strategies. Accurate record keeping of your search strategies will allow others to verify your results. The records will give the reader an understanding of how you came to find and choose the materials in your review. It will give your review an extra layer of authority. Auditability is a crucial part of the review process. The review must be consistent and systematic throughout.
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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
Books on Literature Reviews
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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
Literature Review: Literature Review
- 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
What is a Literature Review?
A Literature Review is a systematic and comprehensive analysis of books, scholarly articles, and other sources relevant to a specific topic providing a base of knowledge on a topic. Literature reviews are designed to identify and critique the existing literature on a topic to justify your research by exposing gaps in current research. This investigation should provide a description, summary, and critical evaluation of works related to the research problem and should also add to the overall knowledge of the topic as well as demonstrating how your research will fit within a larger field of study. A literature review should offer a critical analysis of the current research on a topic and that analysis should direct your research objective. This should not be confused with a book review or an annotated bibliography both research tools but very different in purpose and scope. A Literature Review can be a stand-alone element or part of a larger end product, know your assignment. The key to a good Literature Review is to document your process .
Basics of a Literature Review
17 - what is a literature review from Joshua Vossler on Vimeo .
This guide is a curated collection of materials from around the internet used with permission: including videos, infographics, text blocks, and other materials when citing the entire guide use:
Karas, Laura B. “Literature Review.” LibGuides , University of South Carolina Upstate, https://uscupstate.libguides.com/Literature_Review.
When citing an element such as an individual video, or infographic use the original source, that is linked back such as:
Vossler, Joshua, director. What Is a Literature Review . Vimeo , University of West Florida, 2014, https://vimeo.com/90324266. Accessed 29 June 2022.
There are many different ways to organize your references in a literature review, but most reviews contain certain basic elements.
- The objective of the literature review - Clearly describe the purpose of the paper and state your objectives in completing the literature review.
- Overview of the subject, issue, or theory under consideration – Give an overview of your research topic and what prompted it.
- Categorization of sources – Grouping your research either historic, chronologically, or thematically
- Organization of Subtopics – Subtopics should be grouped and presented in a logical order starting with the most prominent or significant and moving to the least significant
- Discussion – Provide analysis of both the uniqueness of each source and its similarities with other sources
- Conclusion - Summary of your analysis and evaluation of the reviewed works and how it is related to its parent discipline, scientific endeavor, or profession
Literature Reviews: Common Errors Made When Conducting a Literature Review
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Chapter 5: The Literature Review
5.3 Acceptable sources for literature reviews
Following are a few acceptable sources for literature reviews, listed in order from what will be considered most acceptable to less acceptable sources for your literature review assignments:
- Peer reviewed journal articles.
- Edited academic books.
- Articles in professional journals.
- Statistical data from government websites.
- Website material from professional associations (use sparingly and carefully). The following sections will explain and provide examples of these various sources.
Peer reviewed journal articles (papers)
A peer reviewed journal article is a paper that has been submitted to a scholarly journal, accepted, and published. Peer review journal papers go through a rigorous, blind review process of peer review. What this means is that two to three experts in the area of research featured in the paper have reviewed and accepted the paper for publication. The names of the author(s) who are seeking to publish the research have been removed (blind review), so as to minimize any bias towards the authors of the research (albeit, sometimes a savvy reviewer can discern who has done the research based upon previous publications, etc.). This blind review process can be long (often 12 to 18 months) and may involve many back and forth edits on the behalf of the researchers, as they work to address the edits and concerns of the peers who reviewed their paper. Often, reviewers will reject the paper for a variety of reasons, such as unclear or questionable methods, lack of contribution to the field, etc. Because peer reviewed journal articles have gone through a rigorous process of review, they are considered to be the premier source for research. Peer reviewed journal articles should serve as the foundation for your literature review.
The following link will provide more information on peer reviewed journal articles. Make sure you watch the little video on the upper left-hand side of your screen, in addition to reading the material at the following website: http://guides.lib.jjay.cuny.edu/c.php?g=288333&p=1922599
Edited academic books
An edited academic book is a collection of scholarly scientific papers written by different authors. The works are original papers, not published elsewhere (“Edited volume,” 2018). The papers within the text also go through a process of review; however, the review is often not a blind review because the authors have been invited to contribute to the book. Consequently, edited academic books are fine to use for your literature review, but you also want to ensure that your literature review contains mostly peer reviewed journal papers.
Articles in professional journals
Articles from professional journals should be used with caution for your literature review. This is because articles in trade journals are not usually peer reviewed, even though they may appear to be. A good way to find out is to read the “About Us” section of the professional journal, which should state whether or not the papers are peer reviewed. You can also find out by Googling the name of the journal and adding “peer reviewed” to the search.
Statistical data from governmental websites
Governmental websites can be excellent sources for statistical data, e.g, Statistics Canada collects and publishes data related to the economy, society, and the environment (see https://www.statcan.gc.ca/eng/start ).
Website material from professional associations
Material from other websites can also serve as a source for statistics that you may need for your literature review. Since you want to justify the value of the research that interests you, you might make use of a professional association’s website to learn how many members they have, for example. You might want to demonstrate, as part of the introduction to your literature review, why more research on the topic of PTSD in police officers is important. You could use peer reviewed journal articles to determine the prevalence of PTSD in police officers in Canada in the last ten years, and then use the Ontario Police Officers´ Association website to determine the approximate number of police officers employed in the Province of Ontario over the last ten years. This might help you estimate how many police officers could be suffering with PTSD in Ontario. That number could potentially help to justify a research grant down the road. But again, this type of website- based material should be used with caution and sparingly.
Research Methods for the Social Sciences: An Introduction by Valerie Sheppard is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.
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Lau F, Kuziemsky C, editors. Handbook of eHealth Evaluation: An Evidence-based Approach [Internet]. Victoria (BC): University of Victoria; 2017 Feb 27.
Handbook of eHealth Evaluation: An Evidence-based Approach [Internet].
Chapter 9 methods for literature reviews.
Guy Paré and Spyros Kitsiou .
Literature reviews play a critical role in scholarship because science remains, first and foremost, a cumulative endeavour ( vom Brocke et al., 2009 ). As in any academic discipline, rigorous knowledge syntheses are becoming indispensable in keeping up with an exponentially growing eHealth literature, assisting practitioners, academics, and graduate students in finding, evaluating, and synthesizing the contents of many empirical and conceptual papers. Among other methods, literature reviews are essential for: (a) identifying what has been written on a subject or topic; (b) determining the extent to which a specific research area reveals any interpretable trends or patterns; (c) aggregating empirical findings related to a narrow research question to support evidence-based practice; (d) generating new frameworks and theories; and (e) identifying topics or questions requiring more investigation ( Paré, Trudel, Jaana, & Kitsiou, 2015 ).
Literature reviews can take two major forms. The most prevalent one is the “literature review” or “background” section within a journal paper or a chapter in a graduate thesis. This section synthesizes the extant literature and usually identifies the gaps in knowledge that the empirical study addresses ( Sylvester, Tate, & Johnstone, 2013 ). It may also provide a theoretical foundation for the proposed study, substantiate the presence of the research problem, justify the research as one that contributes something new to the cumulated knowledge, or validate the methods and approaches for the proposed study ( Hart, 1998 ; Levy & Ellis, 2006 ).
The second form of literature review, which is the focus of this chapter, constitutes an original and valuable work of research in and of itself ( Paré et al., 2015 ). Rather than providing a base for a researcher’s own work, it creates a solid starting point for all members of the community interested in a particular area or topic ( Mulrow, 1987 ). The so-called “review article” is a journal-length paper which has an overarching purpose to synthesize the literature in a field, without collecting or analyzing any primary data ( Green, Johnson, & Adams, 2006 ).
When appropriately conducted, review articles represent powerful information sources for practitioners looking for state-of-the art evidence to guide their decision-making and work practices ( Paré et al., 2015 ). Further, high-quality reviews become frequently cited pieces of work which researchers seek out as a first clear outline of the literature when undertaking empirical studies ( Cooper, 1988 ; Rowe, 2014 ). Scholars who track and gauge the impact of articles have found that review papers are cited and downloaded more often than any other type of published article ( Cronin, Ryan, & Coughlan, 2008 ; Montori, Wilczynski, Morgan, Haynes, & Hedges, 2003 ; Patsopoulos, Analatos, & Ioannidis, 2005 ). The reason for their popularity may be the fact that reading the review enables one to have an overview, if not a detailed knowledge of the area in question, as well as references to the most useful primary sources ( Cronin et al., 2008 ). Although they are not easy to conduct, the commitment to complete a review article provides a tremendous service to one’s academic community ( Paré et al., 2015 ; Petticrew & Roberts, 2006 ). Most, if not all, peer-reviewed journals in the fields of medical informatics publish review articles of some type.
The main objectives of this chapter are fourfold: (a) to provide an overview of the major steps and activities involved in conducting a stand-alone literature review; (b) to describe and contrast the different types of review articles that can contribute to the eHealth knowledge base; (c) to illustrate each review type with one or two examples from the eHealth literature; and (d) to provide a series of recommendations for prospective authors of review articles in this domain.
9.2. Overview of the Literature Review Process and Steps
As explained in Templier and Paré (2015) , there are six generic steps involved in conducting a review article:
- formulating the research question(s) and objective(s),
- searching the extant literature,
- screening for inclusion,
- assessing the quality of primary studies,
- extracting data, and
- analyzing data.
Although these steps are presented here in sequential order, one must keep in mind that the review process can be iterative and that many activities can be initiated during the planning stage and later refined during subsequent phases ( Finfgeld-Connett & Johnson, 2013 ; Kitchenham & Charters, 2007 ).
Formulating the research question(s) and objective(s): As a first step, members of the review team must appropriately justify the need for the review itself ( Petticrew & Roberts, 2006 ), identify the review’s main objective(s) ( Okoli & Schabram, 2010 ), and define the concepts or variables at the heart of their synthesis ( Cooper & Hedges, 2009 ; Webster & Watson, 2002 ). Importantly, they also need to articulate the research question(s) they propose to investigate ( Kitchenham & Charters, 2007 ). In this regard, we concur with Jesson, Matheson, and Lacey (2011) that clearly articulated research questions are key ingredients that guide the entire review methodology; they underscore the type of information that is needed, inform the search for and selection of relevant literature, and guide or orient the subsequent analysis. Searching the extant literature: The next step consists of searching the literature and making decisions about the suitability of material to be considered in the review ( Cooper, 1988 ). There exist three main coverage strategies. First, exhaustive coverage means an effort is made to be as comprehensive as possible in order to ensure that all relevant studies, published and unpublished, are included in the review and, thus, conclusions are based on this all-inclusive knowledge base. The second type of coverage consists of presenting materials that are representative of most other works in a given field or area. Often authors who adopt this strategy will search for relevant articles in a small number of top-tier journals in a field ( Paré et al., 2015 ). In the third strategy, the review team concentrates on prior works that have been central or pivotal to a particular topic. This may include empirical studies or conceptual papers that initiated a line of investigation, changed how problems or questions were framed, introduced new methods or concepts, or engendered important debate ( Cooper, 1988 ). Screening for inclusion: The following step consists of evaluating the applicability of the material identified in the preceding step ( Levy & Ellis, 2006 ; vom Brocke et al., 2009 ). Once a group of potential studies has been identified, members of the review team must screen them to determine their relevance ( Petticrew & Roberts, 2006 ). A set of predetermined rules provides a basis for including or excluding certain studies. This exercise requires a significant investment on the part of researchers, who must ensure enhanced objectivity and avoid biases or mistakes. As discussed later in this chapter, for certain types of reviews there must be at least two independent reviewers involved in the screening process and a procedure to resolve disagreements must also be in place ( Liberati et al., 2009 ; Shea et al., 2009 ). Assessing the quality of primary studies: In addition to screening material for inclusion, members of the review team may need to assess the scientific quality of the selected studies, that is, appraise the rigour of the research design and methods. Such formal assessment, which is usually conducted independently by at least two coders, helps members of the review team refine which studies to include in the final sample, determine whether or not the differences in quality may affect their conclusions, or guide how they analyze the data and interpret the findings ( Petticrew & Roberts, 2006 ). Ascribing quality scores to each primary study or considering through domain-based evaluations which study components have or have not been designed and executed appropriately makes it possible to reflect on the extent to which the selected study addresses possible biases and maximizes validity ( Shea et al., 2009 ). Extracting data: The following step involves gathering or extracting applicable information from each primary study included in the sample and deciding what is relevant to the problem of interest ( Cooper & Hedges, 2009 ). Indeed, the type of data that should be recorded mainly depends on the initial research questions ( Okoli & Schabram, 2010 ). However, important information may also be gathered about how, when, where and by whom the primary study was conducted, the research design and methods, or qualitative/quantitative results ( Cooper & Hedges, 2009 ). Analyzing and synthesizing data : As a final step, members of the review team must collate, summarize, aggregate, organize, and compare the evidence extracted from the included studies. The extracted data must be presented in a meaningful way that suggests a new contribution to the extant literature ( Jesson et al., 2011 ). Webster and Watson (2002) warn researchers that literature reviews should be much more than lists of papers and should provide a coherent lens to make sense of extant knowledge on a given topic. There exist several methods and techniques for synthesizing quantitative (e.g., frequency analysis, meta-analysis) and qualitative (e.g., grounded theory, narrative analysis, meta-ethnography) evidence ( Dixon-Woods, Agarwal, Jones, Young, & Sutton, 2005 ; Thomas & Harden, 2008 ).
9.3. Types of Review Articles and Brief Illustrations
EHealth researchers have at their disposal a number of approaches and methods for making sense out of existing literature, all with the purpose of casting current research findings into historical contexts or explaining contradictions that might exist among a set of primary research studies conducted on a particular topic. Our classification scheme is largely inspired from Paré and colleagues’ (2015) typology. Below we present and illustrate those review types that we feel are central to the growth and development of the eHealth domain.
9.3.1. Narrative Reviews
The narrative review is the “traditional” way of reviewing the extant literature and is skewed towards a qualitative interpretation of prior knowledge ( Sylvester et al., 2013 ). Put simply, a narrative review attempts to summarize or synthesize what has been written on a particular topic but does not seek generalization or cumulative knowledge from what is reviewed ( Davies, 2000 ; Green et al., 2006 ). Instead, the review team often undertakes the task of accumulating and synthesizing the literature to demonstrate the value of a particular point of view ( Baumeister & Leary, 1997 ). As such, reviewers may selectively ignore or limit the attention paid to certain studies in order to make a point. In this rather unsystematic approach, the selection of information from primary articles is subjective, lacks explicit criteria for inclusion and can lead to biased interpretations or inferences ( Green et al., 2006 ). There are several narrative reviews in the particular eHealth domain, as in all fields, which follow such an unstructured approach ( Silva et al., 2015 ; Paul et al., 2015 ).
Despite these criticisms, this type of review can be very useful in gathering together a volume of literature in a specific subject area and synthesizing it. As mentioned above, its primary purpose is to provide the reader with a comprehensive background for understanding current knowledge and highlighting the significance of new research ( Cronin et al., 2008 ). Faculty like to use narrative reviews in the classroom because they are often more up to date than textbooks, provide a single source for students to reference, and expose students to peer-reviewed literature ( Green et al., 2006 ). For researchers, narrative reviews can inspire research ideas by identifying gaps or inconsistencies in a body of knowledge, thus helping researchers to determine research questions or formulate hypotheses. Importantly, narrative reviews can also be used as educational articles to bring practitioners up to date with certain topics of issues ( Green et al., 2006 ).
Recently, there have been several efforts to introduce more rigour in narrative reviews that will elucidate common pitfalls and bring changes into their publication standards. Information systems researchers, among others, have contributed to advancing knowledge on how to structure a “traditional” review. For instance, Levy and Ellis (2006) proposed a generic framework for conducting such reviews. Their model follows the systematic data processing approach comprised of three steps, namely: (a) literature search and screening; (b) data extraction and analysis; and (c) writing the literature review. They provide detailed and very helpful instructions on how to conduct each step of the review process. As another methodological contribution, vom Brocke et al. (2009) offered a series of guidelines for conducting literature reviews, with a particular focus on how to search and extract the relevant body of knowledge. Last, Bandara, Miskon, and Fielt (2011) proposed a structured, predefined and tool-supported method to identify primary studies within a feasible scope, extract relevant content from identified articles, synthesize and analyze the findings, and effectively write and present the results of the literature review. We highly recommend that prospective authors of narrative reviews consult these useful sources before embarking on their work.
Darlow and Wen (2015) provide a good example of a highly structured narrative review in the eHealth field. These authors synthesized published articles that describe the development process of mobile health ( m-health ) interventions for patients’ cancer care self-management. As in most narrative reviews, the scope of the research questions being investigated is broad: (a) how development of these systems are carried out; (b) which methods are used to investigate these systems; and (c) what conclusions can be drawn as a result of the development of these systems. To provide clear answers to these questions, a literature search was conducted on six electronic databases and Google Scholar . The search was performed using several terms and free text words, combining them in an appropriate manner. Four inclusion and three exclusion criteria were utilized during the screening process. Both authors independently reviewed each of the identified articles to determine eligibility and extract study information. A flow diagram shows the number of studies identified, screened, and included or excluded at each stage of study selection. In terms of contributions, this review provides a series of practical recommendations for m-health intervention development.
9.3.2. Descriptive or Mapping Reviews
The primary goal of a descriptive review is to determine the extent to which a body of knowledge in a particular research topic reveals any interpretable pattern or trend with respect to pre-existing propositions, theories, methodologies or findings ( King & He, 2005 ; Paré et al., 2015 ). In contrast with narrative reviews, descriptive reviews follow a systematic and transparent procedure, including searching, screening and classifying studies ( Petersen, Vakkalanka, & Kuzniarz, 2015 ). Indeed, structured search methods are used to form a representative sample of a larger group of published works ( Paré et al., 2015 ). Further, authors of descriptive reviews extract from each study certain characteristics of interest, such as publication year, research methods, data collection techniques, and direction or strength of research outcomes (e.g., positive, negative, or non-significant) in the form of frequency analysis to produce quantitative results ( Sylvester et al., 2013 ). In essence, each study included in a descriptive review is treated as the unit of analysis and the published literature as a whole provides a database from which the authors attempt to identify any interpretable trends or draw overall conclusions about the merits of existing conceptualizations, propositions, methods or findings ( Paré et al., 2015 ). In doing so, a descriptive review may claim that its findings represent the state of the art in a particular domain ( King & He, 2005 ).
In the fields of health sciences and medical informatics, reviews that focus on examining the range, nature and evolution of a topic area are described by Anderson, Allen, Peckham, and Goodwin (2008) as mapping reviews . Like descriptive reviews, the research questions are generic and usually relate to publication patterns and trends. There is no preconceived plan to systematically review all of the literature although this can be done. Instead, researchers often present studies that are representative of most works published in a particular area and they consider a specific time frame to be mapped.
An example of this approach in the eHealth domain is offered by DeShazo, Lavallie, and Wolf (2009). The purpose of this descriptive or mapping review was to characterize publication trends in the medical informatics literature over a 20-year period (1987 to 2006). To achieve this ambitious objective, the authors performed a bibliometric analysis of medical informatics citations indexed in medline using publication trends, journal frequencies, impact factors, Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) term frequencies, and characteristics of citations. Findings revealed that there were over 77,000 medical informatics articles published during the covered period in numerous journals and that the average annual growth rate was 12%. The MeSH term analysis also suggested a strong interdisciplinary trend. Finally, average impact scores increased over time with two notable growth periods. Overall, patterns in research outputs that seem to characterize the historic trends and current components of the field of medical informatics suggest it may be a maturing discipline (DeShazo et al., 2009).
9.3.3. Scoping Reviews
Scoping reviews attempt to provide an initial indication of the potential size and nature of the extant literature on an emergent topic (Arksey & O’Malley, 2005; Daudt, van Mossel, & Scott, 2013 ; Levac, Colquhoun, & O’Brien, 2010). A scoping review may be conducted to examine the extent, range and nature of research activities in a particular area, determine the value of undertaking a full systematic review (discussed next), or identify research gaps in the extant literature ( Paré et al., 2015 ). In line with their main objective, scoping reviews usually conclude with the presentation of a detailed research agenda for future works along with potential implications for both practice and research.
Unlike narrative and descriptive reviews, the whole point of scoping the field is to be as comprehensive as possible, including grey literature (Arksey & O’Malley, 2005). Inclusion and exclusion criteria must be established to help researchers eliminate studies that are not aligned with the research questions. It is also recommended that at least two independent coders review abstracts yielded from the search strategy and then the full articles for study selection ( Daudt et al., 2013 ). The synthesized evidence from content or thematic analysis is relatively easy to present in tabular form (Arksey & O’Malley, 2005; Thomas & Harden, 2008 ).
One of the most highly cited scoping reviews in the eHealth domain was published by Archer, Fevrier-Thomas, Lokker, McKibbon, and Straus (2011) . These authors reviewed the existing literature on personal health record ( phr ) systems including design, functionality, implementation, applications, outcomes, and benefits. Seven databases were searched from 1985 to March 2010. Several search terms relating to phr s were used during this process. Two authors independently screened titles and abstracts to determine inclusion status. A second screen of full-text articles, again by two independent members of the research team, ensured that the studies described phr s. All in all, 130 articles met the criteria and their data were extracted manually into a database. The authors concluded that although there is a large amount of survey, observational, cohort/panel, and anecdotal evidence of phr benefits and satisfaction for patients, more research is needed to evaluate the results of phr implementations. Their in-depth analysis of the literature signalled that there is little solid evidence from randomized controlled trials or other studies through the use of phr s. Hence, they suggested that more research is needed that addresses the current lack of understanding of optimal functionality and usability of these systems, and how they can play a beneficial role in supporting patient self-management ( Archer et al., 2011 ).
9.3.4. Forms of Aggregative Reviews
Healthcare providers, practitioners, and policy-makers are nowadays overwhelmed with large volumes of information, including research-based evidence from numerous clinical trials and evaluation studies, assessing the effectiveness of health information technologies and interventions ( Ammenwerth & de Keizer, 2004 ; Deshazo et al., 2009 ). It is unrealistic to expect that all these disparate actors will have the time, skills, and necessary resources to identify the available evidence in the area of their expertise and consider it when making decisions. Systematic reviews that involve the rigorous application of scientific strategies aimed at limiting subjectivity and bias (i.e., systematic and random errors) can respond to this challenge.
Systematic reviews attempt to aggregate, appraise, and synthesize in a single source all empirical evidence that meet a set of previously specified eligibility criteria in order to answer a clearly formulated and often narrow research question on a particular topic of interest to support evidence-based practice ( Liberati et al., 2009 ). They adhere closely to explicit scientific principles ( Liberati et al., 2009 ) and rigorous methodological guidelines (Higgins & Green, 2008) aimed at reducing random and systematic errors that can lead to deviations from the truth in results or inferences. The use of explicit methods allows systematic reviews to aggregate a large body of research evidence, assess whether effects or relationships are in the same direction and of the same general magnitude, explain possible inconsistencies between study results, and determine the strength of the overall evidence for every outcome of interest based on the quality of included studies and the general consistency among them ( Cook, Mulrow, & Haynes, 1997 ). The main procedures of a systematic review involve:
- Formulating a review question and developing a search strategy based on explicit inclusion criteria for the identification of eligible studies (usually described in the context of a detailed review protocol).
- Searching for eligible studies using multiple databases and information sources, including grey literature sources, without any language restrictions.
- Selecting studies, extracting data, and assessing risk of bias in a duplicate manner using two independent reviewers to avoid random or systematic errors in the process.
- Analyzing data using quantitative or qualitative methods.
- Presenting results in summary of findings tables.
- Interpreting results and drawing conclusions.
Many systematic reviews, but not all, use statistical methods to combine the results of independent studies into a single quantitative estimate or summary effect size. Known as meta-analyses , these reviews use specific data extraction and statistical techniques (e.g., network, frequentist, or Bayesian meta-analyses) to calculate from each study by outcome of interest an effect size along with a confidence interval that reflects the degree of uncertainty behind the point estimate of effect ( Borenstein, Hedges, Higgins, & Rothstein, 2009 ; Deeks, Higgins, & Altman, 2008 ). Subsequently, they use fixed or random-effects analysis models to combine the results of the included studies, assess statistical heterogeneity, and calculate a weighted average of the effect estimates from the different studies, taking into account their sample sizes. The summary effect size is a value that reflects the average magnitude of the intervention effect for a particular outcome of interest or, more generally, the strength of a relationship between two variables across all studies included in the systematic review. By statistically combining data from multiple studies, meta-analyses can create more precise and reliable estimates of intervention effects than those derived from individual studies alone, when these are examined independently as discrete sources of information.
The review by Gurol-Urganci, de Jongh, Vodopivec-Jamsek, Atun, and Car (2013) on the effects of mobile phone messaging reminders for attendance at healthcare appointments is an illustrative example of a high-quality systematic review with meta-analysis. Missed appointments are a major cause of inefficiency in healthcare delivery with substantial monetary costs to health systems. These authors sought to assess whether mobile phone-based appointment reminders delivered through Short Message Service ( sms ) or Multimedia Messaging Service ( mms ) are effective in improving rates of patient attendance and reducing overall costs. To this end, they conducted a comprehensive search on multiple databases using highly sensitive search strategies without language or publication-type restrictions to identify all rct s that are eligible for inclusion. In order to minimize the risk of omitting eligible studies not captured by the original search, they supplemented all electronic searches with manual screening of trial registers and references contained in the included studies. Study selection, data extraction, and risk of bias assessments were performed independently by two coders using standardized methods to ensure consistency and to eliminate potential errors. Findings from eight rct s involving 6,615 participants were pooled into meta-analyses to calculate the magnitude of effects that mobile text message reminders have on the rate of attendance at healthcare appointments compared to no reminders and phone call reminders.
Meta-analyses are regarded as powerful tools for deriving meaningful conclusions. However, there are situations in which it is neither reasonable nor appropriate to pool studies together using meta-analytic methods simply because there is extensive clinical heterogeneity between the included studies or variation in measurement tools, comparisons, or outcomes of interest. In these cases, systematic reviews can use qualitative synthesis methods such as vote counting, content analysis, classification schemes and tabulations, as an alternative approach to narratively synthesize the results of the independent studies included in the review. This form of review is known as qualitative systematic review.
A rigorous example of one such review in the eHealth domain is presented by Mickan, Atherton, Roberts, Heneghan, and Tilson (2014) on the use of handheld computers by healthcare professionals and their impact on access to information and clinical decision-making. In line with the methodological guidelines for systematic reviews, these authors: (a) developed and registered with prospero ( www.crd.york.ac.uk/ prospero / ) an a priori review protocol; (b) conducted comprehensive searches for eligible studies using multiple databases and other supplementary strategies (e.g., forward searches); and (c) subsequently carried out study selection, data extraction, and risk of bias assessments in a duplicate manner to eliminate potential errors in the review process. Heterogeneity between the included studies in terms of reported outcomes and measures precluded the use of meta-analytic methods. To this end, the authors resorted to using narrative analysis and synthesis to describe the effectiveness of handheld computers on accessing information for clinical knowledge, adherence to safety and clinical quality guidelines, and diagnostic decision-making.
In recent years, the number of systematic reviews in the field of health informatics has increased considerably. Systematic reviews with discordant findings can cause great confusion and make it difficult for decision-makers to interpret the review-level evidence ( Moher, 2013 ). Therefore, there is a growing need for appraisal and synthesis of prior systematic reviews to ensure that decision-making is constantly informed by the best available accumulated evidence. Umbrella reviews , also known as overviews of systematic reviews, are tertiary types of evidence synthesis that aim to accomplish this; that is, they aim to compare and contrast findings from multiple systematic reviews and meta-analyses ( Becker & Oxman, 2008 ). Umbrella reviews generally adhere to the same principles and rigorous methodological guidelines used in systematic reviews. However, the unit of analysis in umbrella reviews is the systematic review rather than the primary study ( Becker & Oxman, 2008 ). Unlike systematic reviews that have a narrow focus of inquiry, umbrella reviews focus on broader research topics for which there are several potential interventions ( Smith, Devane, Begley, & Clarke, 2011 ). A recent umbrella review on the effects of home telemonitoring interventions for patients with heart failure critically appraised, compared, and synthesized evidence from 15 systematic reviews to investigate which types of home telemonitoring technologies and forms of interventions are more effective in reducing mortality and hospital admissions ( Kitsiou, Paré, & Jaana, 2015 ).
9.3.5. Realist Reviews
Realist reviews are theory-driven interpretative reviews developed to inform, enhance, or supplement conventional systematic reviews by making sense of heterogeneous evidence about complex interventions applied in diverse contexts in a way that informs policy decision-making ( Greenhalgh, Wong, Westhorp, & Pawson, 2011 ). They originated from criticisms of positivist systematic reviews which centre on their “simplistic” underlying assumptions ( Oates, 2011 ). As explained above, systematic reviews seek to identify causation. Such logic is appropriate for fields like medicine and education where findings of randomized controlled trials can be aggregated to see whether a new treatment or intervention does improve outcomes. However, many argue that it is not possible to establish such direct causal links between interventions and outcomes in fields such as social policy, management, and information systems where for any intervention there is unlikely to be a regular or consistent outcome ( Oates, 2011 ; Pawson, 2006 ; Rousseau, Manning, & Denyer, 2008 ).
To circumvent these limitations, Pawson, Greenhalgh, Harvey, and Walshe (2005) have proposed a new approach for synthesizing knowledge that seeks to unpack the mechanism of how “complex interventions” work in particular contexts. The basic research question — what works? — which is usually associated with systematic reviews changes to: what is it about this intervention that works, for whom, in what circumstances, in what respects and why? Realist reviews have no particular preference for either quantitative or qualitative evidence. As a theory-building approach, a realist review usually starts by articulating likely underlying mechanisms and then scrutinizes available evidence to find out whether and where these mechanisms are applicable ( Shepperd et al., 2009 ). Primary studies found in the extant literature are viewed as case studies which can test and modify the initial theories ( Rousseau et al., 2008 ).
The main objective pursued in the realist review conducted by Otte-Trojel, de Bont, Rundall, and van de Klundert (2014) was to examine how patient portals contribute to health service delivery and patient outcomes. The specific goals were to investigate how outcomes are produced and, most importantly, how variations in outcomes can be explained. The research team started with an exploratory review of background documents and research studies to identify ways in which patient portals may contribute to health service delivery and patient outcomes. The authors identified six main ways which represent “educated guesses” to be tested against the data in the evaluation studies. These studies were identified through a formal and systematic search in four databases between 2003 and 2013. Two members of the research team selected the articles using a pre-established list of inclusion and exclusion criteria and following a two-step procedure. The authors then extracted data from the selected articles and created several tables, one for each outcome category. They organized information to bring forward those mechanisms where patient portals contribute to outcomes and the variation in outcomes across different contexts.
9.3.6. Critical Reviews
Lastly, critical reviews aim to provide a critical evaluation and interpretive analysis of existing literature on a particular topic of interest to reveal strengths, weaknesses, contradictions, controversies, inconsistencies, and/or other important issues with respect to theories, hypotheses, research methods or results ( Baumeister & Leary, 1997 ; Kirkevold, 1997 ). Unlike other review types, critical reviews attempt to take a reflective account of the research that has been done in a particular area of interest, and assess its credibility by using appraisal instruments or critical interpretive methods. In this way, critical reviews attempt to constructively inform other scholars about the weaknesses of prior research and strengthen knowledge development by giving focus and direction to studies for further improvement ( Kirkevold, 1997 ).
Kitsiou, Paré, and Jaana (2013) provide an example of a critical review that assessed the methodological quality of prior systematic reviews of home telemonitoring studies for chronic patients. The authors conducted a comprehensive search on multiple databases to identify eligible reviews and subsequently used a validated instrument to conduct an in-depth quality appraisal. Results indicate that the majority of systematic reviews in this particular area suffer from important methodological flaws and biases that impair their internal validity and limit their usefulness for clinical and decision-making purposes. To this end, they provide a number of recommendations to strengthen knowledge development towards improving the design and execution of future reviews on home telemonitoring.
Table 9.1 outlines the main types of literature reviews that were described in the previous sub-sections and summarizes the main characteristics that distinguish one review type from another. It also includes key references to methodological guidelines and useful sources that can be used by eHealth scholars and researchers for planning and developing reviews.
Typology of Literature Reviews (adapted from Paré et al., 2015).
As shown in Table 9.1 , each review type addresses different kinds of research questions or objectives, which subsequently define and dictate the methods and approaches that need to be used to achieve the overarching goal(s) of the review. For example, in the case of narrative reviews, there is greater flexibility in searching and synthesizing articles ( Green et al., 2006 ). Researchers are often relatively free to use a diversity of approaches to search, identify, and select relevant scientific articles, describe their operational characteristics, present how the individual studies fit together, and formulate conclusions. On the other hand, systematic reviews are characterized by their high level of systematicity, rigour, and use of explicit methods, based on an “a priori” review plan that aims to minimize bias in the analysis and synthesis process (Higgins & Green, 2008). Some reviews are exploratory in nature (e.g., scoping/mapping reviews), whereas others may be conducted to discover patterns (e.g., descriptive reviews) or involve a synthesis approach that may include the critical analysis of prior research ( Paré et al., 2015 ). Hence, in order to select the most appropriate type of review, it is critical to know before embarking on a review project, why the research synthesis is conducted and what type of methods are best aligned with the pursued goals.
9.5. Concluding Remarks
In light of the increased use of evidence-based practice and research generating stronger evidence ( Grady et al., 2011 ; Lyden et al., 2013 ), review articles have become essential tools for summarizing, synthesizing, integrating or critically appraising prior knowledge in the eHealth field. As mentioned earlier, when rigorously conducted review articles represent powerful information sources for eHealth scholars and practitioners looking for state-of-the-art evidence. The typology of literature reviews we used herein will allow eHealth researchers, graduate students and practitioners to gain a better understanding of the similarities and differences between review types.
We must stress that this classification scheme does not privilege any specific type of review as being of higher quality than another ( Paré et al., 2015 ). As explained above, each type of review has its own strengths and limitations. Having said that, we realize that the methodological rigour of any review — be it qualitative, quantitative or mixed — is a critical aspect that should be considered seriously by prospective authors. In the present context, the notion of rigour refers to the reliability and validity of the review process described in section 9.2. For one thing, reliability is related to the reproducibility of the review process and steps, which is facilitated by a comprehensive documentation of the literature search process, extraction, coding and analysis performed in the review. Whether the search is comprehensive or not, whether it involves a methodical approach for data extraction and synthesis or not, it is important that the review documents in an explicit and transparent manner the steps and approach that were used in the process of its development. Next, validity characterizes the degree to which the review process was conducted appropriately. It goes beyond documentation and reflects decisions related to the selection of the sources, the search terms used, the period of time covered, the articles selected in the search, and the application of backward and forward searches ( vom Brocke et al., 2009 ). In short, the rigour of any review article is reflected by the explicitness of its methods (i.e., transparency) and the soundness of the approach used. We refer those interested in the concepts of rigour and quality to the work of Templier and Paré (2015) which offers a detailed set of methodological guidelines for conducting and evaluating various types of review articles.
To conclude, our main objective in this chapter was to demystify the various types of literature reviews that are central to the continuous development of the eHealth field. It is our hope that our descriptive account will serve as a valuable source for those conducting, evaluating or using reviews in this important and growing domain.
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- Cite this Page Paré G, Kitsiou S. Chapter 9 Methods for Literature Reviews. In: Lau F, Kuziemsky C, editors. Handbook of eHealth Evaluation: An Evidence-based Approach [Internet]. Victoria (BC): University of Victoria; 2017 Feb 27.
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Literature Reviews, Introduction to Different Types of
There are many different types of literature reviews, each with its own approach, analysis, and purpose. To confuse matters, these types aren't named consistently. The following are some of the more common types of literature reviews.
These are more rigorous, with some level of appraisal:
- The Systematic Review is important to health care and medical trials, and other subjects where methodology and data are important. Through rigorous review and analysis of literature that meets a specific criteria, the systematic review identifies and compares answers to health care related questions. The systematic review may include meta-analysis and meta-synthesis, which leads us to...
- The Quantitative or Qualitative Meta-analysis Review can both make up the whole or part of systematic review(s). Both are thorough and comprehensive in condensing and making sense of a large body of research. The quantitative meta-analysis reviews quantitative research, is objective, and includes statistical analysis. The qualitative meta-analysis reviews qualitative research, is subjective (or evaluative, or interpretive), and identifies new themes or concepts.
These don't always include a formal assessment or analysis:
- The Literature Review (see our Literature Review video) or Narrative Review often appears as a chapter in a thesis or dissertation. It describes what related research has already been conducted, how it informs the thesis, and how the thesis fits into the research in the field. (See https://student.unsw.edu.au/writing-critical-review for more information.)
- The Critical Review is like a literature review, but requires a more detailed examination of the literature, in order to compare and evaluate a number of perspectives.
- The Scoping Review is often used at the beginning of an article, dissertation or research proposal. It is conducted before the research begins, and sets the stage for this research by highlighting gaps in the literature, and explaining the need for the research about to be conducted, which is presented in the remainder of the article.
- The Conceptual Review groups articles according to concepts, or categories, or themes. It identifies the current 'understanding' of the given research topic, discusses how this understanding was reached, and attempts to determine whether a greater understanding can be suggested. It provides a snapshot of where things are with this particular field of research.
- The State-of-the-Art Review is conducted periodically, with a focus on the most recent research. It describes what is currently known, understood, or agreed upon regarding the research topic, and highlights where are there still disagreements.
Source: 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. http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1471-1842.2009.00848.x
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Primary Literature. Original research results in journals, dissertations, conference proceedings, correspondence ; Secondary Literature. Review
Research Literature. Some edited books, journal articles, theses and government publications will employ research paradigms and methodologies to
Different types of literature reviews · Narrative or Traditional literature reviews · Scoping Reviews · Systematic style literature review.
Types of literature reviews · Narrative or traditional literature reviews · Critically Appraised Topic (CAT) · Scoping reviews · Systematic
Types of Literature Review · Narrative literature review, also referred to as traditional literature review, critiques literature and summarizes the body of a
Types of Literature Reviews · First, there are the primary studies that researchers conduct and publish. · Second, are the reviews of those
Peer reviewed journal articles (papers) · Edited academic books · Articles in professional journals · Statistical data from governmental websites · Website material
Literature reviews can take two major forms. The most prevalent one is the “literature review” or “background” section within a journal paper or a chapter in a
Useful information · Theoretical literature · Research literature · Practice literature · Policy literature · Archival sources · Critical literature · Theoretical
The quantitative meta-analysis reviews quantitative research, is objective, and includes statistical analysis. The qualitative meta-analysis reviews qualitative