Booth, A., Papaioannou, D., and Sutton, A. Systematic Approaches to a Successful Literature Review. London: Sage Publications, 2012. (279 p.)
As a dissertation supervisor for LIS masters students, one of essential tasks I have never forgotten suggesting them to do from the outset is to review some literature and previous research. Processes of this review seem to be iterative rather than linear in nature. There are at least four benefits we can obtain from conducting a literature review as I can recall at this moment :-)
1) The relevant literature is a core information resource for the students to find research gaps and generate sound research questions in their study areas of interest.
2) The prior knowledge of the fields helps them develop testable hypotheses or reasonable conceptual frameworks on the theoretical basis.
3) The previous studies guide the students to choose as well as design their suitable methods of data collection and analysis.
4) Some evidence of the related research can be used to confirm or contrast with our findings from inquiries when writing a discussion chapter.
Unfortunately, we cannot fully get the above-mentioned advantages if we still have kept doing our review of literature without explaining readers how we find, select, and apply these pieces of the relevant literature to our research! In other words, conducting a traditional or narrative review may not be sufficient for making our work look transparent and rigorous. I mean that we should urge our students to employ systematic approaches while undertaking their literature reviews nowadays. Reviewing previous studies systematically, however, is not easy in practice. They need some helpful books that they can easily follow steps-by-steps even if we, as supervisors, always teach them in our research methods classes. What I want to recommend for this purpose is Booth, Papaioannou, and Sutton’s book “Systematic Approaches to a Successful Literature Review” published by Sage Publications. One of the authors, Andrew Booth, just received the Scan Award 2012/13 winners from Library and Information Research Group Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals in the United Kingdom.
This book is divided into 10 chapters. They are as follows:
Chapter 1 - The Literature Review: Its Role within Research
Chapter 2 - Systematic Approaches to the Literature
Chapter 3 - Planning and Writing a Literature Review
Chapter 4 - Defining the Scope
Chapter 5 - Searching the Literature
Chapter 6 - Assessing the Evidence Base
Chapter 7 - Synthesising Included Studies
Chapter 8 - Analysing the Findings
Chapter 9 - Writing up and Presenting Data
Chapter 10 - Managing the Literature Project
Each chapter has its own exercise that readers can use it to check their understanding after learning. There are also lots of sources as good examples given at the end of each chapter that audiences can read further by themselves.
Generally, advanced textbooks always rely on Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions in Health Care (2008). Sometimes they provide many complicated techniques in connection with evidence-based synthesis (see Petticrew & Roberts 2005), or meta-analysis (see Cooper 2010). This makes them suitable for experienced investigators who seriously treat their systematic reviews as a ‘research methodology.’
The book “Systematic Approaches to a Successful Literature Review” differs markedly from others in terms of its focus. This book, on the other hand, is appropriate for beginners who just want to perform literature reviews in a ‘systematic way’. It simply emphasizes how novice researchers can do to complete various types of reviews systematically. Because there are several approaches possible to apply up to 14 review types, I suggest that readers have to make a decision on what kinds of reviews they aim to do first, such as a critical review, scoping review, state-of-the-art review, and so on. This book will be useful if the readers have a clear type of literature review they really want to conduct in mind, and then choose some systematic approaches to search, appraisal, synthesis, analysis, and presentation of their literature reviews.
According to the authors of this book, all literature reviews, in essence, can be systematic (no need to call it ‘a systematic review’) by keeping a certain review question, describing methods of locating previous studies, proposing explicit criteria for including and excluding relevant literature, and evaluating the quality of the selected studies (Booth, Papaioannou, and Sutton 2012: 11, 14). Let’s try adding value to our literature reviews with systematic techniques now!
Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons, 2008.
Cooper, H. Research Synthesis and Meta-Analysis. 4th ed. Los Angeles: Sage Publications, 2010.
Petticrew, M. & Roberts, H. Systematic Reviews in the Social Sciences: A Practical Guide.
Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2005.