Research Spotlight: Literature reviews

Photo by Nick Morrison on Unsplash

The literature review is an important part of any research project. It involves finding, examining and discussing any work that has already been done on the topic or in the research area. The literature review ensures that the research being conducted is original, and it places the work within the broader context of the discipline as a whole.

There are several types of literature reviews. The most common is a narrative, or traditional, review. This type of review is what is usually included in a PhD thesis or journal article. A narrative review is a comprehensive analysis of what is already known on a topic. The review can help you identify patterns and trends in the literature so that you can identify any gaps or inconsistencies. This allows you to create a more focussed research question.

Systematic reviews originated in the medical sciences. They are much more complex than a narrative review. They are often designed to answer a specific, clearly defined, research question. Systematic reviews can take years to complete and often involve a team of researchers.

Scoping reviews are often called ‘systematic-like’ because they seek to identify the literature on a particular topic, but they do not seek to answer a specific research question. Scoping reviews aim to provide an overview on a research topic. Even though they are not as complex as a systematic review, scoping reviews still require a rigorous methodology.

Annotated bibliographies are exactly what they sound like: a bibliography where the references are given an annotation. This means that the researcher has written some notes about each reference under the reference itself. There are four types of annotations that are commonly used: descriptions of the work, summaries of the work, critical appraisals of the work, or a combination of description, summaries, and criticisms.

Charles Sturt University provides several software tools to help researchers conduct a literature review. EndNote can help manage references and automatically generate an annotated bibliography. NVivo is a qualitative data analysis software tool that can help analyse and pull themes out of the literature that is collected. JBI Summari is a tool that is used by researchers working on systematic and scoping reviews to help manage, select, critically appraise, extract, and synthesise data from the literature.

You can find more information on each type of literature review in the Literature Review Library Guide or in the Sage Research Methods database.

If you have any further questions please do not hesitate to contact a Senior Client Services Librarian in your faculty.