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How do you decide which type of review to use? a guide to beat the literature reviewing blues…

Recently, I have been in search of the perfect methodology for reviewing the literature. So many options…benefits, limitations and choices…I found it really hard to choose the right one.. Which reviewing methodology would Goldilocks choose? which one is just right for you?.. After all of my searching, I thought it my be useful to make a listed guide to what I have found…
So… first of all, what is a literature review?…as always, the academic community will debate around this subject… but feel free to browse my  ‘Guide to Literature Reviewing for Student Midwives & Student Nurses’ here

Perceived strengths.  The literature review method seeks to identify what has been accomplished previously, allowing for consolidation, for building on previous work, for summation, for avoiding duplication and for identifying omissions or gaps.

Perceived weaknesses.  Literature reviews lack an explicit intent to maximise scope or analyse data collected. Any conclusions they may reach are therefore open to bias from the potential to omit, perhaps inadvertently, significant sections of the literature or by not questioning the validity of statements made. Additionally, authors may only select literature that supports their world view, lending undue credence to a preferred hypothesis.

Grant, Maria J., and Andrew Booth. “A typology of reviews: an analysis of 14 review types and associated methodologies.” Health Information & Libraries Journal 26.2 (2009): 91-108.

But there are many types of literature review that can do much more than simply review the literature…so how do you know which one to choose?

discovery

In order to decide which type of review to use, you will need to decide what you are trying to do, find out, or achieve.

Trying to develop a new concept? theory? or model?

Then you may want to explore the use of a critical literature review methodology. This methodology allows you to demonstrate how you have not only extensively researched a topic, but that you can critically evaluate the literature and take new conclusions and interpretations from it. You can then present these new interpretations as a new hypothesis or model… sounds good right?

Search

Not systematic – You are searching to find the most relevant stuff.

Appraisal

No need to evaluate quality -You are looking for literature which is fit for purpose.

Synthesis

Usually narrative, but you can be creative with this.

Analysis

Needs to arrive at a new conceptual theory or hypothesis of some kind.

Cautions

Every conclusion you draw will be subjective – Others may not be able to repeat your process

Looking to identify gaps in research?

Then you may want to conduct a mapping review of the literature. This methodology allows you to map out and categorise the existing literature on a topic. From this you can identify what other kinds of reviews or research need doing, as you identify gaps in the literature.

Search

Can be systematic, but searching is usually bound by time constraints, so this can be determined in line with your scope.

Appraisal

No need to evaluate quality

Synthesis

Use tables and graphics

Analysis

Quantify the research found and outline study types – suggest areas of future research.

Cautions

Can be overly descriptive, try to characterise studies on more than the basis of study design

Want to combine statistical data to provide more precise results?

In this case you may consider doing a the meta-analysis (A type of analysis done within a literature review – so really, this is one component of or add on to a systematic review).

Search

Thorough, comprehensive, systematic – Can use funnel plot

Appraisal

Use quality appraisal to guide inclusion/exclusion and/or sensitivity analyses

Synthesis

Use tables, graphics and narrative

Analysis

Analyses measures of effect numerically

Cautions

Your review can only be as good as the included studies allow..also, there is little value in comparing very diverse study types.

Want to combine quantitative with qualitative?

If you want to explore a complex problem using both qualitative and quantitative literature, then a mixed-methods review is for you…

Search

Your strategy must capture both quantitative and qualitative research

Appraisal

Need to use an appraisal tool appropriate for both qualitative, quantitative and/or mixed-methods research

Synthesis

Use tables, graphics and narrative – Present qualitative and quantitative results separately

Analysis

Look for correlations, gaps in the literature and draw conclusions based on combined findings.

Cautions

Theoretical and methodological challenges in bringing together qualitative and quantitative studies

Need to assess what is already known about a topic?

A rapid review is for you.

Search

Determined by time constraints

Appraisal

Formal quality appraisal required

Synthesis

Use tables and narrative

Analysis

Look for directions of effect, and quality and quantity of the literature

Cautions

Doing things quickly…you always run the risk of bias and mistakes are more easily made

Want to know the size and scope of available research?

A Scoping review is for you..

Search

You may want to perform your search as a research in progress

Appraisal

No formal quality appraisal is required

Synthesis

Use tables and narrative.. you can also use commentary

Analysis

Look for directions for future research – Use this to form new research questions.

Cautions

This is not usually a final output…rather a means to an end

Want to address really current matters?

When you want to offer new perspectives on a current issue or point out a new area for further research, you may consider conducting a state-of-the-art review.

Search

Comprehensive and current

Appraisal

No formal quality appraisal is required

Synthesis

Use tables and narrative

Analysis

Present a current state of knowledge and list priorities for future research

Cautions

Beware of subject experts’ particularly idiosyncratic and personal perspectives on current and future priorities.

Want to systematically search for, appraise and synthesis research evidence?

If you are looking to do more than a just review or systematize the literature, then a systematic literature review is for you.

Search

Comprehensive exhaustive and systematic

Appraisal

Formal quality appraisal is required – This can be used to exclude research of poor quality

Synthesis

Use tables and narrative

Analysis

Present recommendations for future research based on what is known, what remains unknown, and what we are still unsure about…The review should answer a broad research question.

Cautions

Adhere to reporting guidelines for a strong output.

Want to create an accessible and usable document in relation to a broad issue?

If you would like to highlight reviews that address interventions and their results in relation to a broad issue, then an umbrella review is for you.

Search

Only searches for component reviews

Appraisal

Formal quality appraisal  for reviews is required

Synthesis

Use tables, graphics and narrative

Analysis

Present recommendations for future research based on what is known, what remains unknown, and what we are still unsure about…The review should consolidate all that is known about one broad issue.

Cautions

Requires the pre-existence of the narrower component reviews

Want to know what works, for whom, in what circumstances . . . and why?

If you want to unpack the mechanism(s) of how and why complex interventions thrive or fail, in particular setting(s), then the realist review methodology is for you!

Search

Highly detailed and systematic

Appraisal

Justify how judgments were made

Synthesis

Use tables, graphics and narrative – include information on the constructs analysed and describe the analytic process.

Analysis

Present the key findings with a specific focus on theory building and testing

Cautions

Ensure that the RAMESES (Realist And MEta-narrative Evidence Syntheses: Evolving Standards) guidelines and standards are adhered to for a strong output.

workings

So…have we made a decision, are we sitting comfortably? are we ready to begin?…Let me know how you get on, and please share any additionally methodologies I may have missed.
Until next times, take care of yourselves…and each other 🌟🎓🌟
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