Ye Olde Days of Literature Reviews

OMG- my literature review form is bad. It’s like that old-fashioned style of boxing – fine when everyone was doing it that way, but looks odd now


(Image from used under CC license)

I’ve now got to a Systematic Literature Review for my work and in reading up on this- it made me realise that the approach I take to doing a Literature Review is now considered “traditional” – here’s a excerpt from

An Introduction to Systematic Reviews 2012 by Gough, Oliver and Thomas

Traditional literature reviews typically present research findings relating to a topic of interest. They summarise what is known on a topic. They tend to provide details on the studies that they consider without explaining the criteria used to
identify and include those studies or why certain studies are described and discussed while others are not. Potentially relevant studies may not have been included because the review author was unaware of them or, being aware of them, decided for reasons unspecified not to include them. If the process of identifying and including studies is not explicit, it is not possible to assess the appropriateness of such decisions or whether they were applied in a consistent and rigorous manner. It is thus also not possible to interpret the meaning of the review findings.

Yep, thats me. It might be you too. Here’s a quick check-list to see if you are “traditional” in your approach to Literature Review

1. Do you have documented account of the search terms you’ve used in each database?

Yes= continue No = traditional literature review. Fail/Do not pass go – instead go read about systematic reviews.

2. Do you have documented account of the papers returned via each search in a specific database?

Yes= continue No = traditional literature review. Fail/Do not pass go – instead go read about systematic reviews.

3. Have you developed an explicit conceptual framework that shows the boundaries of your literature review? (this should be typed up and not just in your head)

Yes/No = you get the picture

4. Have you documented and explained the criteria that you are using to assess the quality and relevance of literature within your review?

This is a simplified checklist as I’m new to this area myself but I’ll definately be changing how I go about my final thesis literature review.


About Sarina Kilham

I'm a Doctoral Researcher at the Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney. Trained as a social scientist and with a Masters in Sustainable Agriculture, I'm interested in farmer's experiences of growing feedstock for biodiesel production. My research has focused on biodiesel production in Brazil and Timor-Leste. Also on Twitter @sarinakilham and blogging at
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