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Systematic Methods for Literature Reviews: SRM - General/What/Why

What "systematic" means for literature reviews - briefly

What are "systematic methods for reviews" ?  Three general points.

  • Rigorous methods can be used to do a review.  This can involve using, for example, search strategies that are recommended for optimal results given your research goals.  Rigor can also involve documenting what you are doing so that the process is thoughtful as you work to complete the review. That care supports knowing what you have done, and possible "tweaks" to your process, etc.  Not all of what you record or document may be reported in the final review product.

  • Rigorous methods can also be used to report review results and the process that was used to complete the review. In what are called formally "systematic reviews", there has been considerable emphasis on reporting a range of recommended types of information in a lot of detail.  It does seem like some level of such process detail might be included in any kind of literature review project (papers, grants, articles, dissertation/thesis literature review chapters). 

  • Involves seeking out guidance on methods that have been recommended for effective searching, reporting, "systematic reviewing", etc. and consciously pursuing actions and choices using that guidance.

Why "systematic" ?  A collection of reasons.

  • To limit unconscious or conscious "cherry picking" of publications supportive of a reviewers viewpoint.  

  • To increase transparency, allowing readers of reviews to see more of how a review was developed. This provides a fuller framework for evaluating the review.

  • To provide fuller basis for reader and writer confidence in the results of the review.

  • To give readers and writers of reviews a fuller picture of how reviews might be updated or extended.

  • To limit potential impact of bias. Publication bias, citation Bias, etc. For example, see the report:  Dissemination and publication of research findings: an updated review of related biases.  Song F, Parekh S, Hooper L, Loke YK, Ryder J, Sutton AJ, Hing C, Kwok CS, Pang C, Harvey I. Health Technol Assess. 2010 Feb;14(8):iii, ix-xi, 1-193. doi: 10.3310/hta14080

What disciplines ?

Systematic methods of review have been successfully developed particularly for questions concerning the impact of interventions; these synthesize the findings of studies which use experimental controlled designs. Yet the logic of systematic methods for reviewing the literature can be applied to all areas of research; therefore there can be as much variation in systematic reviews as is found in primary research (Gough, et al., 2012).