Tackling a doctoral dissertation demands careful research, critical analysis, and a deep understanding of the existing body of knowledge in your field. At the heart of this journey lies the notorious literature review—a crucial section that not only demonstrates your scholarly prowess but also lays the groundwork for your research. One question I had recently from a dissertation coaching client involved choosing the type of lit review that would be most appropriate for her dissertation project. To clarify, let’s explore the main types of literature reviews and what distinguishes them from each other.

1. Narrative Literature Review: Navigating the Landscape

The narrative literature review, often referred to as the traditional or comprehensive review, is akin to painting a landscape of your research area. In this type of review, you’ll embark on a journey through a wide array of literature aligned with your research questions, summarizing and synthesizing existing research to provide a holistic overview. This approach is well-suited for interdisciplinary topics or exploratory research, where a narrative narrative can help identify trends, controversies, and gaps in the literature.

2. Systematic Literature Review: Providing Methodical Rigor

For those who crave methodical rigor and transparency, the systematic literature review is a prime choice. This approach involves a clearly defined search criteria, systematic screening and selection of studies, and a standardized process for analyzing and synthesizing findings. The systematic review’s objective is to minimize bias and ensure repeatability, making it ideal for addressing specific research questions or providing evidence-based insights. (See this article for more on conducting a systematic lit review.)

3. Meta-analysis: Generating Quantitative Insights

Delving further into the realm of systematic reviews, we encounter the meta-analysis—an approach that brings quantitative prowess to the table. By pooling data from multiple studies and conducting statistical analyses, a meta-analysis uncovers patterns, relationships, and trends that individual studies might not reveal. This type of review is a powerful tool for finding statistically significant conclusions and enhancing the robustness of your research findings.

4. Scoping Review: Mapping the Broad Expanse

When faced with a vast or emerging research area, a scoping review can be the best option. Unlike other types of reviews that delve into detail, the scoping review is focused on mapping out the extent, nature, and concepts within the literature. This approach helps define the boundaries of your research area, identify gaps, and refine your research questions.

In the context of a doctoral dissertation, the type of literature review you choose should align with your research goals, methodology, and the unique demands of your field. Each type offers distinct strengths and serves a specific purpose, allowing you to tailor your approach to your research objectives.

As you embark on your dissertation journey, remember that the literature review is not just a perfunctory exercise—it’s your chance to showcase your understanding of the existing scholarly landscape and set the stage for your own contribution to your field.

Now that summer is almost over, for many of us, it’s time to refocus and get back into our academic projects. For inspiration, check out this blog post on autumn fresh starts!