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Different Types of Literature Review: Which One Fits Your Research?

By Laura Brown on 13th October 2023

You might not have heard that there are multiple kinds of literature review. However, with the progress in your academic career you will learn these classifications and may need to use different types of them. However, there is nothing to worry if you aren’t aware of them now, as here we are going to discuss this topic in detail.

There are approximately 14 types of literature review on the basis of their specific objectives, methodologies, and the way they approach and analyse existing literature in academic research. Of those 14, there are 4 major types. But before we delve into the details of each one of them and how they are useful in academics, let’s first understand the basics of literature review.

Demystifying 14 Different Types of Literature Reviews

What is Literature Review?

A literature review is a critical and systematic summary and evaluation of existing research. It is an essential component of academic and research work, providing an overview of the current state of knowledge in a particular field.

In easy words, a literature review is like making a big, organised summary of all the important research and smart books or articles about a particular topic or question. It’s something scholars and researchers do, and it helps everyone see what we already know about that topic. It’s kind of like taking a snapshot of what we understand right now in a certain field.

It serves with some specific purpose in the research.

  • Provides a comprehensive understanding of existing research on a topic.
  • Identifies gaps, trends, and inconsistencies in the literature.
  • Contextualise your own research within the broader academic discourse.
  • Supports the development of theoretical frameworks or research hypotheses.

4 Major Types Of Literature Review

The four major types include, Narrative Review, Systematic Review, Meta-Analysis, and Scoping Review. These are known as the major ones because they’re like the “go-to” methods for researchers in academic and research circles. Think of them as the classic tools in the researcher’s toolbox. They’ve earned their reputation because they have a unique style for literature review introduction, clear steps and specific qualities that make them super handy for different research needs.

1. Narrative Review

Narrative reviews present a well-structured narrative that reads like a cohesive story, providing a comprehensive overview of a specific topic. These reviews often incorporate historical context and offer a broad understanding of the subject matter, making them valuable for researchers looking to establish a foundational understanding of their area of interest. They are particularly useful when a historical perspective or a broad context is necessary to comprehend the current state of knowledge in a field.

2. Systematic Review

Systematic reviews are renowned for their methodological rigour. They involve a meticulously structured process that includes the systematic selection of relevant studies, comprehensive data extraction, and a critical synthesis of their findings. This systematic approach is designed to minimise bias and subjectivity, making systematic reviews highly reliable and objective. They are considered the gold standard for evidence-based research as they provide a clear and rigorous assessment of the available evidence on a specific research question.

3. Meta Analysis

Meta analysis is a powerful method for researchers who prefer a quantitative and statistical perspective. It involves the statistical synthesis of data from various studies, allowing researchers to draw more precise and generalisable conclusions by combining data from multiple sources. Meta analyses are especially valuable when the aim is to quantitatively measure the effect size or impact of a particular intervention, treatment, or phenomenon.

4. Scoping Review

Scoping reviews are invaluable tools, especially for researchers in the early stages of exploring a topic. These reviews aim to map the existing literature, identifying gaps and helping clarify research questions. Scoping reviews provide a panoramic view of the available research, which is particularly useful when researchers are embarking on exploratory studies or trying to understand the breadth and depth of a subject before conducting more focused research.

Different Types Of Literature review In Research

There are some more approaches to conduct literature review. Let’s explore these classifications quickly.

5. Critical Review

Critical reviews provide an in-depth evaluation of existing literature, scrutinising sources for their strengths, weaknesses, and relevance. They offer a critical perspective, often highlighting gaps in the research and areas for further investigation.

6. Theoretical Review

Theoretical reviews are centred around exploring and analysing the theoretical frameworks, concepts, and models present in the literature. They aim to contribute to the development and refinement of theoretical perspectives within a specific field.

7. Integrative Review

Integrative reviews synthesise a diverse range of studies, drawing connections between various research findings to create a comprehensive understanding of a topic. These reviews often bridge gaps between different perspectives and provide a holistic overview.

8. Historical Review

Historical reviews focus on the evolution of a topic over time, tracing its development through past research, events, and scholarly contributions. They offer valuable context for understanding the current state of research.

9. Methodological Review

Among the different kinds of literature reviews, methodological reviews delve into the research methods and methodologies employed in existing studies. Researchers assess these approaches for their effectiveness, validity, and relevance to the research question at hand.

10. Cross-Disciplinary Review

Cross-disciplinary reviews explore a topic from multiple academic disciplines, emphasising the diversity of perspectives and insights that each discipline brings. They are particularly useful for interdisciplinary research projects and uncovering connections between seemingly unrelated fields.

11. Descriptive Review

Descriptive reviews provide an organised summary of existing literature without extensive analysis. They offer a straightforward overview of key findings, research methods, and themes present in the reviewed studies.

12. Rapid Review

Rapid reviews expedite the literature review process, focusing on summarising relevant studies quickly. They are often used for time-sensitive projects where efficiency is a priority, without sacrificing quality.

13. Conceptual Review

Conceptual reviews concentrate on clarifying and developing theoretical concepts within a specific field. They address ambiguities or inconsistencies in existing theories, aiming to refine and expand conceptual frameworks.

14. Library Research

Library research reviews rely primarily on library and archival resources to gather and synthesise information. They are often employed in historical or archive-based research projects, utilising library collections and historical documents for in-depth analysis.

Each type of literature review serves distinct purposes and comes with its own set of strengths and weaknesses, allowing researchers to choose the one that best suits their research objectives and questions.

Choosing the Ideal Literature Review Approach in Academics

In order to conduct your research in the right manner, it is important that you choose the correct type of review for your literature. Here are 8 amazing tips we have sorted for you in regard to literature review help so that you can select the best-suited type for your research.

  1. Clarify Your Research Goals: Begin by defining your research objectives and what you aim to achieve with the literature review. Are you looking to summarise existing knowledge, identify gaps, or analyse specific data?
  2. Understand Different Review Types: Familiarise yourself with different kinds of literature reviews, including systematic reviews, narrative reviews, meta-analyses, scoping reviews, and integrative reviews. Each serves a different purpose.
  3. Consider Available Resources: Assess the resources at your disposal, including time, access to databases, and the volume of literature on your topic. Some review types may be more resource-intensive than others.
  4. Alignment with Research Question: Ensure that the chosen review type aligns with your research question or hypothesis. Some types are better suited for answering specific research questions than others.
  5. Scope and Depth: Determine the scope and depth of your review. For a broad overview, a narrative review might be suitable, while a systematic review is ideal for an in-depth analysis.
  6. Consult with Advisors: Seek guidance from your academic advisors or mentors. They can provide valuable insights into which review type best fits your research goals and resources.
  7. Consider Research Field Standards: Different academic fields have established standards and preferences for different forms of literature review. Familiarise yourself with what is common and accepted in your field.
  8. Pilot Review: Consider conducting a small-scale pilot review of the literature to test the feasibility and suitability of your chosen review type before committing to a larger project.

Bonus Tip: Crafting an Effective Literature Review

Now, since you have learned all the literature review types and have understood which one to prefer, here are some bonus tips for you to structure a literature review of a dissertation.

  1. Clearly Define Your Research Question: Start with a well-defined and focused research question to guide your literature review.
  2. Thorough Search Strategy: Develop a comprehensive search strategy to ensure you capture all relevant literature.
  3. Critical Evaluation: Assess the quality and credibility of the sources you include in your review.
  4. Synthesise and Organise: Summarise the key findings and organise the literature into themes or categories.
  5. Maintain a Systematic Approach: If conducting a systematic review, adhere to a predefined methodology and reporting guidelines.
  6. Engage in Continuous Review: Regularly update your literature review to incorporate new research and maintain relevance.

Some Useful Tools And Resources For You

Effective literature reviews demand a range of tools and resources to streamline the process.

  1. Reference management software like EndNote, Zotero, and Mendeley helps organise, store, and cite sources, saving time and ensuring accuracy.
  2. Academic databases such as PubMed, Google Scholar, and Web of Science provide access to a vast array of scholarly articles, with advanced search and citation tracking features.
  3. Research guides from universities and libraries offer tips and templates for structuring reviews.
  4. Research networks like ResearchGate and Academia.edu facilitate collaboration and access to publications. Literature review templates and research workshops provide additional support.

Some Common Mistakes To Avoid

Avoid these common mistakes when crafting literature reviews.

  1. Unclear research objectives result in unfocused reviews, so start with well-defined questions.
  2. Biased source selection can compromise objectivity, so include diverse perspectives.
  3. Never miss on referencing; proper citation and referencing are essential for academic integrity.
  4. Don’t overlook older literature, which provides foundational insights.
  5. Be mindful of scope creep, where the review drifts from the research question; stay disciplined to maintain focus and relevance.

While Summing Up On Various Types Of Literature Review

As we conclude this classification of fourteen distinct approaches to conduct literature reviews, it’s clear that the world of research offers a multitude of avenues for understanding, analysing, and contributing to existing knowledge.

Whether you’re a seasoned scholar or a student beginning your academic journey, the choice of review type should align with your research objectives and the nature of your topic. The versatility of these approaches empowers you to tailor your review to the demands of your project.

Remember, your research endeavours have the potential to shape the future of knowledge, so choose wisely and dive into the world of literature reviews with confidence and purpose. Happy reviewing!

Author Bio:
Laura Brown

Laura Brown, a senior content writer who writes actionable blogs at Crowd Writer.