Monday, 2 November 2020

Types of literature review

A colleague of mine was answering a conference RFP recently for a review paper presentation, and suddenly went blank on how to write up methods for secondary research. It is fascinating, when we stop to think about it, just how long it might be that most of us wrote up a method for a literature review ...probably all the way back to the second year of our undergraduate degree! 

I dug out a few papers for my colleague to review, then thought that it probably wouldn't hurt me to do a refresher myself. That refresher lead to a short series of posts. This one is the first, where we look at the types of literature reviews :-)

In reading through a few papers and texts solely focused on the literature review for this post, there appear to be eight types of literature review: systematic; narrative; instrumental; content analysis; meta-narrative; argumentative; integrative; and theoretical. However, the first two, systematic and narrative appear to be the most common, and the most valued. I have tabulated the data as follows:


Type of Literature Review

Optimal definition

Aveyard (2010)    .

Veal (2005)    .

Onwuegbuzie & Frels (2016) 
         
.

Batbaatar et al (2015)     .

Green et al (2006)    .

Lavallee et al (2014)    .

Dudovskiy (2018)
    
.

Fink (2014)    .

Systematic (aka comprehensive, inclusive/evaluative)

A replicable (Lavallee, 2014) protocol with pre-defined inclusion and exclusion criteria to "track down all the available literature on a topic, [...] describing a clear, comprehensive methodology [... with]  ‘concise summaries of the best available evidence that address sharply defined [...]questions’ " (Mulrow et al. 1997, p. 389, as cited by Aveyard, 2010, p. 14). Some authors categorise SLR into qualitative or quantitative (Green et al., 2006)
A "methodology, conducted either to stand alone or to inform primary research at multiple stages of the research process, which optimally involves the use of mixed research techniques inclusive of culture, ethics, and multimodal texts and settings in a systematic, holistic, synergistic, and cyclical process of exploring, interpreting, synthesizing, and communicating published and/or unpublished information" (Onwuegbuzie & Frels, 2016, p. 4).
"Seeks to identify all published material on the topic. Identifies & lists EVERYTHING written on a topic, then decides what to include & not include. Often includes an abstract of each item in the bibliography, then called an “annotated bibliography”. Inclusive bibliographies are a resource in themselves", and, "the inclusive approach [can be taken] a stage further by providing a commentary on the literature in terms of its coverage and its contribution to knowledge and understanding of the topic"  (Veal, 2005, p. 83)

x

x

x

 

x

x

x

x

Narrative (aka subjective or exploratory)

Often categorised as 'unsystematic', these are "are comprehensive narrative syntheses of previously published information", briefly detailing each "author’s findings in a condensed format that typically summarizes the contents of each article. Some researchers suggest that a proper narrative overview should critique each" (Green et al, 2006, p. 103)
"focused [and] seeks to discover existing research that might throw light on a specific research question or issue. This is the classic literature review thal is the norm for academic research and best fits the model of the research process [...]. Comprehensiveness is not as important as being focused on the particular question or issue. The skill in conducting such a review lies In keeping the question or Issue in sight, while 'interrogating' the literature for ideas and insights which may help shape the research. The reviewer needs to be open to useful ideas, but should not be sidetracked into areas that stray too far from the question or issue of interest"  (Veal, 2005, p. 84)

x

x

 

 

x

 

x

x

Instrumental

"the primary focus is the issue being researched: the literature is used as a source of suitable ideas on how the particular research question might best be tackled. The criterion of selection of literature is not to present a picture of the state of knowledge on the topic, but merely to identify a useful methodology or suitable research instruments which can provide appropriate insights or an effective approach to research the issue. The methodology or instruments identified may provide quantitative or qualitative data on the topic, or the basis of a conceptual framework. This approach is more common in consultancy or project reports"  (Veal, 2005, p. 84)

 

x

 

 

 

 

 

 

Content Analysis

Quantitative analysis of the content of specified documents where the literature is the object of the research. Hermeneutics is officially the qualitative version of content analysis, but both are now considered to be content analysis  (Veal, 2005, p. 84)

 

x

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meta-Narrative

Combines significant contributions in the field, both "quantitative and qualitative evidence, [... with] a time dimension [allowing] the reviewer to look back at how a particular research tradition [...] has unfolded the topic over time, and what kind of methods were used" (Batbaatar et al, 2015, p. 244).

 

 

 

x

 

 

 

 

Argumentative

This "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" (Dudovskiy, 2018, p. 20)

 

 

 

 

 

 

x

 

Integrative

This "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." (Dudovskiy, 2018, p. 20)

 

 

 

 

 

 

x

 

Theoretical

This "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 the existing theories have been investigated, and to develop new hypotheses to be tested." (Dudovskiy, 2018, p. 20)

 

 

 

 

 

 

x

 


The main literature review structure proposed was the systematic review with seven writers specifically naming this type (although sometimes under an alternative name). The second most mentioned was that of the narrative review, with five. The narrative literature review appears to be the structure used most by undergraduate students and junior researchers. It appears that the more expert researchers become, the more likely they are to undertake a systematic literature review. Interestingly, an expert narrative literature review can be highly valuable for teaching, as it summarises a breadth of literature on a key topic (Green et al., 2006). 

There were several types with only one mention: I have included these as they do allow us to consider other forms and structures.

In a later post, I will explore a tool to develop argument in the literature review.  



Sam

References:
  • Aveyard, H. (2010). Doing a Literature Review in Health and Social Care: A practical guide (2nd ed.). Open University Press
  • Batbaatar, E., Dorjdagva, J., Luvsannyam, A., & Amenta, P. (2015). Conceptualisation of patient satisfaction: a systematic narrative literature review. Perspectives in Public Health, 135(5), 243-250. https://doi.org/10.1177/1757913915594196
  • Dudovskiy, J. (2018). The Ultimate Guide to Writing a Dissertation in Business Studies: A Step-by-Step Assistance. research-methodology.net
  • Fink, A. (2014). Conducting Research Literature Reviews: From the Internet to paper (4th ed.). Sage Publications, Inc.
  • Green, B. N., Johnson, C. D., & Adams, A. (2006). Writing narrative literature reviews for peer-reviewed journals: secrets of the trade. Journal of Chiropractic Medicine, 5(3), 101-117. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0899-3467(07)60142-6
  • LavallĂ©e, M., Robillard, P.-N. & Mirsalari, R. (2014). Performing systematic literature reviews with novices: An iterative approach. IEEE Transactions on Education, 57(3), 175-181. https://doi.org/10.1109/TE.2013.2292570
  • Onwuegbuzie, A. J., & Frels, R. (2016). Seven steps to a comprehensive literature review: A multimodal and cultural approach. Sage Publications Ltd. 
  • Veal, A. J. (2005). Business Research Methods – A Managerial Approach (2nd ed.). Pearson Education Australia. 

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