Reviews of published literature

The library has a useful mapping of various kinds of literature review.

The classical literature review is typically part of an experimental study, in which reviewing the literature points to gaps or deficiencies in the research carried out to date. It is used as part of the rationale for doing the experimental study.

For the purposes of this course, carrying out a review to address your research question effectively puts you into the space of carrying out some form of review of the relevant literature.

Systematic reviews of the literature are instances of doing research to identify what previous research has identified about a particular issue or problem. If you are keen to do a systematic review, you will need to demonstrate that it is doable, i.e. small enough to manage in the time frame. However, some of the methods employed in conducting a systematic review will be useful for most reviews of the literature.

Here is a useful comparison between a literature review and a systematic literature review. While some of the methods used for both types of review are the same, a systematic review is likely outside the time frame for this course.

Last year, a student posted this typology of reviews on the Slack site in the #readings channel. Even though this is from the health/medical field, it has a useful account of a number of variants of reviewing research and related literatures. The paper1 is useful. It is important though to recognise that some of the review types would be impractical in the time frame of this course.

There are a number of possibilities in terms of reviewing published literature. The nomenclature you will find varies from source to source. The other thing to bear in mind are the origins of reviewing the literature and what those original developments were trying to achieve.

Of all of the review types, you'll find that systematic reviews loom large in much of what you will come across. Their rise to prominence is tied to the rise in importance in public policy of evidence-based practices. Systematic reviews are often positioned to establish evidence about particular practices or interventions, i.e. what is the effect of drug x on disease y?

Critical literature reviews are sometimes referred to as narrative reviews, traditional reviews, synthesis reviews, critical reviews etc. As you probably have come to realise, consistency in labelling things in the sciences of the social is a problem. So if you come across different labels associated with a particular review, you need to be cautious. Simply calling a review systematic does not make it so! Calling a review critical does not make it so.

Rapid reviews have emerged as a response to the large investment in time and people to conduct systematic reviews.

Here are some notes for carrying out a review of the literature.

There is plenty of advice about how to carry out a review of the literature and how not to. This paper2 is useful in the respect.

A recent publication3 from one of the most influential journals that publishes literature reviews maps the task well.

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