Skip to main content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.

Doing the literature review: Types of literature review

Types of literature review

There are many terms for approaches to a literature review:

Word cloud based on: Some common types of literature review. Source: Booth, A. a.o. (2016) Systematic approaches to a succesful literature review, p. 10.

These approaches differ slightly from each other, but the main principles remain the same. Essential is that a literature review is question-led. At the same time your question is shaped and influenced by the goal and focus of the review:

  • effectiveness questions; what effect does intervention X, compared with intervention Y, have on outcome Z?
  • methodology questions: what research methods have previously been used to investigate phenomenon X?
  • conceptual questions: how has phenomenon X been identified and defined? Which theories have been used to explain phenomenon X?

The 2 most common forms of a literature review probably are labeled narrative review, and systematic review. The narrative style describes and discusses the state-of-the-art of a specific topic or theme from a more theoretical and contextual point of view, whereas the formalized systematic review follows explicit procedures .These are often used in biomedical / healthcare fields to provide evidence of interventions.

See the hand out for a matrix of all mentioned types of literature review.

Whatever approach to reviewing is adopted, you have to make certain decisions concerning the following:

  • who are the intended readers?
  • how is the review to be structured?
  • how are relevant studies to be found, and which studies are to be included?
  • how much detail is to be provided about each study discussed; in particular, how much information is to be given about the research methods employed?
  • how are the studies and their findings to be evaluated and related to one another?

Interested in how good literature reviews can look like? See two examples under Suggested: a peer-reviewed publication (article) in the biomedical field (systematic approach) and a book chapter as part of a thesis (narrative approach).