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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).