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Literature Reviews

How to understand and write a literature review for an academic paper or research article.

Literature Reviews: Types

"Literature review" is the general term for a review of the previous work done on a subject.

However, the method and scope of reviews can vary depending on the purpose of the review and the common practices in your field.

Here are the most common types of reviews you're likely to come across. There are many other types of reviews, from critical to umbrella; some reviews are more map than narrative but the approach you will use depends on your assignment and your discipline.

Check the articles and guides listed below for more on the types of review; in particular, Grant & Booth (2009) provides a long, thorough list of review types and methodologies.


References/Further Reading

Cronin, P., Ryan, F., & Coughlan, M. (2008). Undertaking a literature review: a step-by-step approach. British Journal of Nursing 17(1), 38-43.

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


COMMON REVIEW TYPES

 

TRADITIONAL/NARRATIVE

A critical summary of a body of literature, drawing conclusions about the topic
  • Selective – not everything
  • Where is the topic today? What are the gaps?
  • The information in this guide is primarily focused on the traditional/narrative review.
     

SYSTEMATIC

A review of "all known knowledge on a topic area" (Grant & Booth, 2009, p. 102).

  • A wide-ranging, thorough examination of the literature
  • Written to answer a specific research question
  • Explicit methodology so others can replicate it
  • Appraisal of the findings of each study with a focus on minimizing bias so as to ensure more reliable results
  • Sometimes includes meta-analysis of the data of each study to establish common conclusions
  • Go to the Systematic Review tab for more info.
  • Further reading: Xiao, Y., & Watson, M. (2019). Guidance on conducting a systematic literature review. Journal of Planning Education and Research, 39(1), 93–112. doi:10.1177/0739456X1772397


SCOPING

“[A] snapshot of the field and a complete overview of what has been done” (Xiao & Watson, 2019, p. 99; Grant & Booth, 2009)

  • No quality assessment - EVERYTHING written on a subject, not just the good ones
  • Can show a need for a systematic review
  • Shows the gaps in existing literature
  • Helps clarify definitions
  • Shows how research is being done on a subject
  • Further reading: Kastner, M., Tricco, A.C., Soobiah, C. et al. (2012). What is the most appropriate knowledge synthesis method to conduct a review? Protocol for a scoping review. BMC Medical Research Methodology 12(114). doi:10.1186/1471-2288-12-114

STATE OF THE ART

A review focused on current issues in a field
  • The main players
  • The major questions and debates being discussed at the moment
  • Can miss major trends if they fall out of the scope of the time period covered in the review (Grant & Booth, 2009, p. 101)