What is a thematic literature review

Scientific work

An evaluative literature overview or review on a specific topic or on a defined research question is an important prerequisite at the beginning of every scientific work and research project. Using literature sources, the “story” of a thematic issue is described or “told” in an evaluative manner. “Telling a research story” is then also the title of a guidebook for writing reviews.

In particular so-called systematic literature reviews are important in fields such as medicine, economics and social sciences, as the results of scientific research should often be reported in practice and politics in an “evidence-based” manner. But the topic is also slowly penetrating other subject areas such as engineering (see narrative review on the subject of reviews in a parallel blog post).

It is characteristic of "systematic literature reviews" that the criteria for the selection of the sources are presented openly. The procedure for searching for literature is also explained in sufficient detail. The result of the review should show what is known with regard to the question and what is unknown or where there is still a need for research.

The review process described below is the result of an immersion in the literature on the subject of reviews. A distinction is usually made between 5 and 10 phases when writing a Systematic literature review be run through. The following proposal for a sequence of steps to be followed, developed from the literature review, is intended to provide a framework and thus an aid for preparing a systematic review.

  1. Preparation of the review
    What is the reason to write a review? Which subject area?
  2. Question of the review
    • Which questions and hypotheses does the literature study investigate? Thematic delimitations? What distinguishes the approach of the review from any existing ones with a similar thematic focus?
    • Which inclusion and exclusion criteria are set beforehand for the literature sources to be taken into account?
    • Which literature or document types should be taken into account? Only scientific books, magazines with their articles? Also conference lectures, doctoral theses, research reports and other "gray literature"? Should reference works such as encyclopedias or other sources such as statistics, company and other economic information, government sources etc. be taken into account? Are unpublished sources or data relevant?
  3. Research and localize the literature sources
    Detailed description of the literature search in the review:
    • In addition to Google or Google Scholar research, library catalogs, subject-specific reference works and subject-specific websites of libraries offer initial orientation when searching for literature and familiarizing yourself with a topic.
    • Which specialist databases are taken into account? These list subject-specific journal articles, conference proceedings and associated papers, research reports, dissertations and much more.
    • In order to be as certain as possible that you do not miss anything important when researching, it makes sense to think about the search terms and their logical connection when researching: Which synonyms, generic terms or sub-terms, also in English or in other languages, are used in the Search considered?
    • More tips on how to survive in the flood of information
    • Management of literature references through literature management software.
    • Access to the actual documents themselves (“full texts”) is not always as expected nowadays: directly as a PDF on the screen. If you are asked for login or credit card, think about the library! Sometimes it is not easy to get access to the full texts.

      Check in the TUBfind catalog whether, for example, the journal you are looking for is in the holdings of the TUHH library. If the magazine is only available in print, you must then copy or scan individual articles in the library in the reading room. For older volumes, the volumes must be ordered from the magazine beforehand.

      If there is no access to the journal or the book at the TUHH, then an interlibrary loan is an option! A fee of € 1.50 must be paid for interlibrary loans. The copied essay or the book from another library can be borrowed in most cases within 1 to 2 weeks, sometimes it is faster, sometimes it takes longer.

    • Selection of the relevant work to be treated in the review.
  4. Description of the literature sources (analysis)
    Content evaluation, extracting relevant information and data:
    • With the help of the reference management program Citavi, citations can be excerpted from documents for the respective bibliographic description and these and above all the documents can be provided with your own summaries or rated with your own comments.
    • At the same time, you can assign certain previously defined categories to these evaluation components and thus prepare the content structuring of the review.
    • In the Knowledge program part of Citavi, you can also record other thoughts and get an overview of the quotes, comments and thoughts that have been collected and organize them.
  5. Qualitative evaluation and discussion of the results (synthesis)
    Analysis and Interpretation:
    • Comparison of the individual methods that use the literature sources. Discuss the significance of the results in the literature. What is known about the question in the literature? Which areas of the question have so far been treated uncritically or not at all?
    • Structure of the review?
    • Formally correct citation is essential for a review, which always includes a bibliography at the end.
  6. Publication of the review
    Further use: Incorporation of the review into a thesis, publication in a journal (information on the subject of publishing on the website of the TUHH library)

Literature on the subject of systematic reviews via Zotero

This entry was posted in Finding and writing specialist information and tagged literature overview, review, systematic literature review by Thomas Hapke. Permanent link to the entry.