Different types of literature review techniques followed in a thesis research

By Kinjal Aacha and Priya Chetty on December 15, 2021

The purpose of a literature review is to summarise crucial previous research done on a topic. It is an integral part of the research. From the literature review, the researcher finds out what is lacking in an existing area of research. There are several types of literature review techniques that can be followed in a thesis. They depend on the type of research and the purpose of the study. This article explains the characteristics and fundamental differences in the literature review techniques.

Narrative or traditional literature review technique

This technique of reviewing the literature is the most popular among thesis scholars, and also an important part of any study (Xiao and Watson, 2019). It helps to establish the conceptual and theoretical framework of thesis research. The aim is to identify the studies that have a problem of interest. It does not have a research problem and strategy. It can be used only when there is a topic of interest. The steps in this type of literature review technique include defining the audience, topic and a search for literature. It involves being critical and finding a logical structure. It describes and appraises the articles.

However, the method for selecting articles may not be described. The questions are broader, and the evaluation is variable. Narrative or traditional literature review technique can be of three further types:

  1. A general literature review is the crucial dimension of current knowledge of a topic.
  2. A historical literature review is based on the examination of research throughout a period. Generally, it starts with the first time a theory or topic has emerged.
  3. The methodological literature review describes the way a research design or methods are described.

Systematic literature review technique

A systematic literature review technique helps to identify and appraise the investigation. It is done to get an answer to the formulated question. It aims at determining the appropriate response to the research problem. This sounds similar to the narrative literature review technique but there are a few fundamental differences such as:

  • The research questions are specific.
  • The study selection is based on a criteria.
  • The evaluation style is critical and rigorous.
  • The inferences are usually evidence-based.
  • There is a specific format of presenting the review and it usually involves tables.

A systematic review is used to draw decision-making. Therefore it cannot be a part of all types of theses. The systematic literature review technique is majorly used in the field of science, psychology, medicine, and social sciences. There should be certain principles to be kept in mind while following the systemic review technique. These are clarity, transparency, equality, focus, and accessibility in the representation of results so that chances of bias is minimised.

Critical review technique

The critical review technique is more than a summary of the current studies. It is a detailed discussion of a topic or a study involving various views (Eaton, 2018). The critical review technique is the exercise of careful thinking considering strengths and weaknesses. A critical review requires seeking information and reviewing literature effectively. The aim is to conduct a critical assessment of the focus area of research. The essential characteristic is that it makes a reasoned judgment. A well-made critical review reveals the suitability and relevance of a problem. In addition to this, it weighs the study’s significance.

This type of review technique is used when the study needs to be explored critically. It makes an accurate and precise conclusion of the problem. The critical review is presented to make an unbiased, critical analysis. It involves strong and convincing opinions and arguments. The reasoning is vital in this type of review technique.

Theoretical framework review technique

The purpose of theoretical framework in a thesis is to support the study with relevant theories. When a researcher explains the theory underpinning the idea, it makes the study stronger and more reliable. There may be many theories supporting a single idea. It is important to choose the one that best explains the main concepts and depicts the relation between them. A robust theoretical framework in the research helps explain, interpret, and generalize findings (Frederiksen et. al. 2018). It can increase the success rate of the research. Theories and concepts also signify the understanding of the researcher. In a way, it also acts as the blueprint of the study.

A theoretical framework is particularly essential in subjects like social sciences, economics and consumer psychology. In these subjects, new developments are built on existing theories that constantly evolve but do not become obsolete. Such theses require the identification of at least two theories. Diagrammatic presentation of theories is recommended as they help the reader to visualise better.

Differences in the different literature review techniques

ParameterNarrative reviewSystematic reviewCritical reviewTheoretical framework review
MeaningIt is a general review to define and describe an issue.It presents the findings of empirical studies in a specific format based on criteria.It compares multiple studies and their findings on a specific issue. The researcher’s judgment is also reflected.Description of the theories that support the research.
PurposeThe purpose is to recognize some studies to explain the problem of interest (Dodgson, 2021).The purpose is to aid in evidence-based research. Also, it evaluates and summarizes the findings.  The purpose is to gain a detailed and comparative insight on the issue.It is done to act as a guide and support the study.
MethodThe method is to write as objectively as possible. This is not systematic and has no specific protocol.The methods are sources and searching, review selection, and presentation.The method of critical review is to read every source. Then, look for the arguments.Identifying and explaining relevant theories. Then extract the relevant variables from the study.
ApplicabilityApplicable for all types of research.Appliable in scientific and psychology-based research which need an empirical evidence-based approach.This is applicable when various scholars can consider contradictory views.Applicable in social sciences, economics and psychology-based studies.
Table 1: Differentiating between different types literature review techniques

No matter which type of literature review is chosen for a study, it must be written with a proper structure and format. Emotional phrasing and unjustified claims should be avoided. Moreover, the researcher should not use irrelevant content and non-scholarly sources. The focus must be on choosing the right type of review and finding a logical structure.


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