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How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates

Published on January 2, 2023 by Shona McCombes . Revised on September 11, 2023.

What is a literature review? A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources on a specific topic. It provides an overview of current knowledge, allowing you to identify relevant theories, methods, and gaps in the existing research that you can later apply to your paper, thesis, or dissertation topic .

There are five key steps to writing a literature review:

  • Search for relevant literature
  • Evaluate sources
  • Identify themes, debates, and gaps
  • Outline the structure
  • Write your literature review

A good literature review doesn’t just summarize sources—it analyzes, synthesizes , and critically evaluates to give a clear picture of the state of knowledge on the subject.

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Table of contents

What is the purpose of a literature review, examples of literature reviews, step 1 – search for relevant literature, step 2 – evaluate and select sources, step 3 – identify themes, debates, and gaps, step 4 – outline your literature review’s structure, step 5 – write your literature review, free lecture slides, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions, introduction.

  • Quick Run-through
  • Step 1 & 2

When you write a thesis , dissertation , or research paper , you will likely have to conduct a literature review to situate your research within existing knowledge. The literature review gives you a chance to:

  • Demonstrate your familiarity with the topic and its scholarly context
  • Develop a theoretical framework and methodology for your research
  • Position your work in relation to other researchers and theorists
  • Show how your research addresses a gap or contributes to a debate
  • Evaluate the current state of research and demonstrate your knowledge of the scholarly debates around your topic.

Writing literature reviews is a particularly important skill if you want to apply for graduate school or pursue a career in research. We’ve written a step-by-step guide that you can follow below.

Literature review guide

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Writing literature reviews can be quite challenging! A good starting point could be to look at some examples, depending on what kind of literature review you’d like to write.

  • Example literature review #1: “Why Do People Migrate? A Review of the Theoretical Literature” ( Theoretical literature review about the development of economic migration theory from the 1950s to today.)
  • Example literature review #2: “Literature review as a research methodology: An overview and guidelines” ( Methodological literature review about interdisciplinary knowledge acquisition and production.)
  • Example literature review #3: “The Use of Technology in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Thematic literature review about the effects of technology on language acquisition.)
  • Example literature review #4: “Learners’ Listening Comprehension Difficulties in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Chronological literature review about how the concept of listening skills has changed over time.)

You can also check out our templates with literature review examples and sample outlines at the links below.

Download Word doc Download Google doc

Before you begin searching for literature, you need a clearly defined topic .

If you are writing the literature review section of a dissertation or research paper, you will search for literature related to your research problem and questions .

Make a list of keywords

Start by creating a list of keywords related to your research question. Include each of the key concepts or variables you’re interested in, and list any synonyms and related terms. You can add to this list as you discover new keywords in the process of your literature search.

  • Social media, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok
  • Body image, self-perception, self-esteem, mental health
  • Generation Z, teenagers, adolescents, youth

Search for relevant sources

Use your keywords to begin searching for sources. Some useful databases to search for journals and articles include:

  • Your university’s library catalogue
  • Google Scholar
  • Project Muse (humanities and social sciences)
  • Medline (life sciences and biomedicine)
  • EconLit (economics)
  • Inspec (physics, engineering and computer science)

You can also use boolean operators to help narrow down your search.

Make sure to read the abstract to find out whether an article is relevant to your question. When you find a useful book or article, you can check the bibliography to find other relevant sources.

You likely won’t be able to read absolutely everything that has been written on your topic, so it will be necessary to evaluate which sources are most relevant to your research question.

For each publication, ask yourself:

  • What question or problem is the author addressing?
  • What are the key concepts and how are they defined?
  • What are the key theories, models, and methods?
  • Does the research use established frameworks or take an innovative approach?
  • What are the results and conclusions of the study?
  • How does the publication relate to other literature in the field? Does it confirm, add to, or challenge established knowledge?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the research?

Make sure the sources you use are credible , and make sure you read any landmark studies and major theories in your field of research.

You can use our template to summarize and evaluate sources you’re thinking about using. Click on either button below to download.

Take notes and cite your sources

As you read, you should also begin the writing process. Take notes that you can later incorporate into the text of your literature review.

It is important to keep track of your sources with citations to avoid plagiarism . It can be helpful to make an annotated bibliography , where you compile full citation information and write a paragraph of summary and analysis for each source. This helps you remember what you read and saves time later in the process.

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To begin organizing your literature review’s argument and structure, be sure you understand the connections and relationships between the sources you’ve read. Based on your reading and notes, you can look for:

  • Trends and patterns (in theory, method or results): do certain approaches become more or less popular over time?
  • Themes: what questions or concepts recur across the literature?
  • Debates, conflicts and contradictions: where do sources disagree?
  • Pivotal publications: are there any influential theories or studies that changed the direction of the field?
  • Gaps: what is missing from the literature? Are there weaknesses that need to be addressed?

This step will help you work out the structure of your literature review and (if applicable) show how your own research will contribute to existing knowledge.

  • Most research has focused on young women.
  • There is an increasing interest in the visual aspects of social media.
  • But there is still a lack of robust research on highly visual platforms like Instagram and Snapchat—this is a gap that you could address in your own research.

There are various approaches to organizing the body of a literature review. Depending on the length of your literature review, you can combine several of these strategies (for example, your overall structure might be thematic, but each theme is discussed chronologically).


The simplest approach is to trace the development of the topic over time. However, if you choose this strategy, be careful to avoid simply listing and summarizing sources in order.

Try to analyze patterns, turning points and key debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred.

If you have found some recurring central themes, you can organize your literature review into subsections that address different aspects of the topic.

For example, if you are reviewing literature about inequalities in migrant health outcomes, key themes might include healthcare policy, language barriers, cultural attitudes, legal status, and economic access.


If you draw your sources from different disciplines or fields that use a variety of research methods , you might want to compare the results and conclusions that emerge from different approaches. For example:

  • Look at what results have emerged in qualitative versus quantitative research
  • Discuss how the topic has been approached by empirical versus theoretical scholarship
  • Divide the literature into sociological, historical, and cultural sources


A literature review is often the foundation for a theoretical framework . You can use it to discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts.

You might argue for the relevance of a specific theoretical approach, or combine various theoretical concepts to create a framework for your research.

Like any other academic text , your literature review should have an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion . What you include in each depends on the objective of your literature review.

The introduction should clearly establish the focus and purpose of the literature review.

Depending on the length of your literature review, you might want to divide the body into subsections. You can use a subheading for each theme, time period, or methodological approach.

As you write, you can follow these tips:

  • Summarize and synthesize: give an overview of the main points of each source and combine them into a coherent whole
  • Analyze and interpret: don’t just paraphrase other researchers — add your own interpretations where possible, discussing the significance of findings in relation to the literature as a whole
  • Critically evaluate: mention the strengths and weaknesses of your sources
  • Write in well-structured paragraphs: use transition words and topic sentences to draw connections, comparisons and contrasts

In the conclusion, you should summarize the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasize their significance.

When you’ve finished writing and revising your literature review, don’t forget to proofread thoroughly before submitting. Not a language expert? Check out Scribbr’s professional proofreading services !

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If you want to know more about the research process , methodology , research bias , or statistics , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.

  • Sampling methods
  • Simple random sampling
  • Stratified sampling
  • Cluster sampling
  • Likert scales
  • Reproducibility


  • Null hypothesis
  • Statistical power
  • Probability distribution
  • Effect size
  • Poisson distribution

Research bias

  • Optimism bias
  • Cognitive bias
  • Implicit bias
  • Hawthorne effect
  • Anchoring bias
  • Explicit bias

A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources (such as books, journal articles, and theses) related to a specific topic or research question .

It is often written as part of a thesis, dissertation , or research paper , in order to situate your work in relation to existing knowledge.

There are several reasons to conduct a literature review at the beginning of a research project:

  • To familiarize yourself with the current state of knowledge on your topic
  • To ensure that you’re not just repeating what others have already done
  • To identify gaps in knowledge and unresolved problems that your research can address
  • To develop your theoretical framework and methodology
  • To provide an overview of the key findings and debates on the topic

Writing the literature review shows your reader how your work relates to existing research and what new insights it will contribute.

The literature review usually comes near the beginning of your thesis or dissertation . After the introduction , it grounds your research in a scholarly field and leads directly to your theoretical framework or methodology .

A literature review is a survey of credible sources on a topic, often used in dissertations , theses, and research papers . Literature reviews give an overview of knowledge on a subject, helping you identify relevant theories and methods, as well as gaps in existing research. Literature reviews are set up similarly to other  academic texts , with an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion .

An  annotated bibliography is a list of  source references that has a short description (called an annotation ) for each of the sources. It is often assigned as part of the research process for a  paper .  

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A literature review surveys prior research published in books, scholarly articles, and any other sources relevant to a particular issue, area of research, or theory, and by so doing, provides a description, summary, and critical evaluation of these works in relation to the research problem being investigated. Literature reviews are designed to provide an overview of sources you have used in researching a particular topic and to demonstrate to your readers how your research fits within existing scholarship about the topic.

Fink, Arlene. Conducting Research Literature Reviews: From the Internet to Paper . Fourth edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2014.

Importance of a Good Literature Review

A literature review may consist of simply a summary of key sources, but in the social sciences, a literature review usually has an organizational pattern and combines both summary and synthesis, often within specific conceptual categories . A summary is a recap of the important information of the source, but a synthesis is a re-organization, or a reshuffling, of that information in a way that informs how you are planning to investigate a research problem. The analytical features of a literature review might:

  • Give a new interpretation of old material or combine new with old interpretations,
  • Trace the intellectual progression of the field, including major debates,
  • Depending on the situation, evaluate the sources and advise the reader on the most pertinent or relevant research, or
  • Usually in the conclusion of a literature review, identify where gaps exist in how a problem has been researched to date.

Given this, the purpose of a literature review is to:

  • Place each work in the context of its contribution to understanding the research problem being studied.
  • Describe the relationship of each work to the others under consideration.
  • Identify new ways to interpret prior research.
  • Reveal any gaps that exist in the literature.
  • Resolve conflicts amongst seemingly contradictory previous studies.
  • Identify areas of prior scholarship to prevent duplication of effort.
  • Point the way in fulfilling a need for additional research.
  • Locate your own research within the context of existing literature [very important].

Fink, Arlene. Conducting Research Literature Reviews: From the Internet to Paper. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2005; Hart, Chris. Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1998; Jesson, Jill. Doing Your Literature Review: Traditional and Systematic Techniques . Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2011; Knopf, Jeffrey W. "Doing a Literature Review." PS: Political Science and Politics 39 (January 2006): 127-132; Ridley, Diana. The Literature Review: A Step-by-Step Guide for Students . 2nd ed. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2012.

Types of Literature Reviews

It is important to think of knowledge in a given field as consisting of three layers. First, there are the primary studies that researchers conduct and publish. Second are the reviews of those studies that summarize and offer new interpretations built from and often extending beyond the primary studies. Third, there are the perceptions, conclusions, opinion, and interpretations that are shared informally among scholars that become part of the body of epistemological traditions within the field.

In composing a literature review, it is important to note that it is often this third layer of knowledge that is cited as "true" even though it often has only a loose relationship to the primary studies and secondary literature reviews. Given this, while literature reviews are designed to provide an overview and synthesis of pertinent sources you have explored, there are a number of approaches you could adopt depending upon the type of analysis underpinning your study.

Argumentative Review This form examines literature selectively in order to support or refute an argument, deeply embedded assumption, or philosophical problem already established in the literature. The purpose is to develop a body of literature that establishes a contrarian viewpoint. Given the value-laden nature of some social science research [e.g., educational reform; immigration control], argumentative approaches to analyzing the literature can be a legitimate and important form of discourse. However, note that they can also introduce problems of bias when they are used to make summary claims of the sort found in systematic reviews [see below].

Integrative Review Considered a form of research that reviews, critiques, and synthesizes representative literature on a topic in an integrated way such that new frameworks and perspectives on the topic are generated. The body of literature includes all studies that address related or identical hypotheses or research problems. A well-done integrative review meets the same standards as primary research in regard to clarity, rigor, and replication. This is the most common form of review in the social sciences.

Historical Review Few things rest in isolation from historical precedent. Historical literature reviews focus on examining research throughout a period of time, often starting with the first time an issue, concept, theory, phenomena emerged in the literature, then tracing its evolution within the scholarship of a discipline. The purpose is to place research in a historical context to show familiarity with state-of-the-art developments and to identify the likely directions for future research.

Methodological Review A review does not always focus on what someone said [findings], but how they came about saying what they say [method of analysis]. Reviewing methods of analysis provides a framework of understanding at different levels [i.e. those of theory, substantive fields, research approaches, and data collection and analysis techniques], how researchers draw upon a wide variety of knowledge ranging from the conceptual level to practical documents for use in fieldwork in the areas of ontological and epistemological consideration, quantitative and qualitative integration, sampling, interviewing, data collection, and data analysis. This approach helps highlight ethical issues which you should be aware of and consider as you go through your own study.

Systematic Review This form consists of an overview of existing evidence pertinent to a clearly formulated research question, which uses pre-specified and standardized methods to identify and critically appraise relevant research, and to collect, report, and analyze data from the studies that are included in the review. The goal is to deliberately document, critically evaluate, and summarize scientifically all of the research about a clearly defined research problem . Typically it focuses on a very specific empirical question, often posed in a cause-and-effect form, such as "To what extent does A contribute to B?" This type of literature review is primarily applied to examining prior research studies in clinical medicine and allied health fields, but it is increasingly being used in the social sciences.

Theoretical Review The purpose of this form is to examine the corpus of theory that has accumulated in regard to an issue, concept, theory, phenomena. The theoretical literature review helps to establish what theories already exist, the relationships between them, to what degree the existing theories have been investigated, and to develop new hypotheses to be tested. Often this form is used to help establish a lack of appropriate theories or reveal that current theories are inadequate for explaining new or emerging research problems. The unit of analysis can focus on a theoretical concept or a whole theory or framework.

NOTE : Most often the literature review will incorporate some combination of types. For example, a review that examines literature supporting or refuting an argument, assumption, or philosophical problem related to the research problem will also need to include writing supported by sources that establish the history of these arguments in the literature.

Baumeister, Roy F. and Mark R. Leary. "Writing Narrative Literature Reviews."  Review of General Psychology 1 (September 1997): 311-320; Mark R. Fink, Arlene. Conducting Research Literature Reviews: From the Internet to Paper . 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2005; Hart, Chris. Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1998; Kennedy, Mary M. "Defining a Literature." Educational Researcher 36 (April 2007): 139-147; Petticrew, Mark and Helen Roberts. Systematic Reviews in the Social Sciences: A Practical Guide . Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2006; Torracro, Richard. "Writing Integrative Literature Reviews: Guidelines and Examples." Human Resource Development Review 4 (September 2005): 356-367; Rocco, Tonette S. and Maria S. Plakhotnik. "Literature Reviews, Conceptual Frameworks, and Theoretical Frameworks: Terms, Functions, and Distinctions." Human Ressource Development Review 8 (March 2008): 120-130; Sutton, Anthea. Systematic Approaches to a Successful Literature Review . Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications, 2016.

Structure and Writing Style

I.  Thinking About Your Literature Review

The structure of a literature review should include the following in support of understanding the research problem :

  • An overview of the subject, issue, or theory under consideration, along with the objectives of the literature review,
  • Division of works under review into themes or categories [e.g. works that support a particular position, those against, and those offering alternative approaches entirely],
  • An explanation of how each work is similar to and how it varies from the others,
  • Conclusions as to which pieces are best considered in their argument, are most convincing of their opinions, and make the greatest contribution to the understanding and development of their area of research.

The critical evaluation of each work should consider :

  • Provenance -- what are the author's credentials? Are the author's arguments supported by evidence [e.g. primary historical material, case studies, narratives, statistics, recent scientific findings]?
  • Methodology -- were the techniques used to identify, gather, and analyze the data appropriate to addressing the research problem? Was the sample size appropriate? Were the results effectively interpreted and reported?
  • Objectivity -- is the author's perspective even-handed or prejudicial? Is contrary data considered or is certain pertinent information ignored to prove the author's point?
  • Persuasiveness -- which of the author's theses are most convincing or least convincing?
  • Validity -- are the author's arguments and conclusions convincing? Does the work ultimately contribute in any significant way to an understanding of the subject?

II.  Development of the Literature Review

Four Basic Stages of Writing 1.  Problem formulation -- which topic or field is being examined and what are its component issues? 2.  Literature search -- finding materials relevant to the subject being explored. 3.  Data evaluation -- determining which literature makes a significant contribution to the understanding of the topic. 4.  Analysis and interpretation -- discussing the findings and conclusions of pertinent literature.

Consider the following issues before writing the literature review: Clarify If your assignment is not specific about what form your literature review should take, seek clarification from your professor by asking these questions: 1.  Roughly how many sources would be appropriate to include? 2.  What types of sources should I review (books, journal articles, websites; scholarly versus popular sources)? 3.  Should I summarize, synthesize, or critique sources by discussing a common theme or issue? 4.  Should I evaluate the sources in any way beyond evaluating how they relate to understanding the research problem? 5.  Should I provide subheadings and other background information, such as definitions and/or a history? Find Models Use the exercise of reviewing the literature to examine how authors in your discipline or area of interest have composed their literature review sections. Read them to get a sense of the types of themes you might want to look for in your own research or to identify ways to organize your final review. The bibliography or reference section of sources you've already read, such as required readings in the course syllabus, are also excellent entry points into your own research. Narrow the Topic The narrower your topic, the easier it will be to limit the number of sources you need to read in order to obtain a good survey of relevant resources. Your professor will probably not expect you to read everything that's available about the topic, but you'll make the act of reviewing easier if you first limit scope of the research problem. A good strategy is to begin by searching the USC Libraries Catalog for recent books about the topic and review the table of contents for chapters that focuses on specific issues. You can also review the indexes of books to find references to specific issues that can serve as the focus of your research. For example, a book surveying the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may include a chapter on the role Egypt has played in mediating the conflict, or look in the index for the pages where Egypt is mentioned in the text. Consider Whether Your Sources are Current Some disciplines require that you use information that is as current as possible. This is particularly true in disciplines in medicine and the sciences where research conducted becomes obsolete very quickly as new discoveries are made. However, when writing a review in the social sciences, a survey of the history of the literature may be required. In other words, a complete understanding the research problem requires you to deliberately examine how knowledge and perspectives have changed over time. Sort through other current bibliographies or literature reviews in the field to get a sense of what your discipline expects. You can also use this method to explore what is considered by scholars to be a "hot topic" and what is not.

III.  Ways to Organize Your Literature Review

Chronology of Events If your review follows the chronological method, you could write about the materials according to when they were published. This approach should only be followed if a clear path of research building on previous research can be identified and that these trends follow a clear chronological order of development. For example, a literature review that focuses on continuing research about the emergence of German economic power after the fall of the Soviet Union. By Publication Order your sources by publication chronology, then, only if the order demonstrates a more important trend. For instance, you could order a review of literature on environmental studies of brown fields if the progression revealed, for example, a change in the soil collection practices of the researchers who wrote and/or conducted the studies. Thematic [“conceptual categories”] A thematic literature review is the most common approach to summarizing prior research in the social and behavioral sciences. Thematic reviews are organized around a topic or issue, rather than the progression of time, although the progression of time may still be incorporated into a thematic review. For example, a review of the Internet’s impact on American presidential politics could focus on the development of online political satire. While the study focuses on one topic, the Internet’s impact on American presidential politics, it would still be organized chronologically reflecting technological developments in media. The difference in this example between a "chronological" and a "thematic" approach is what is emphasized the most: themes related to the role of the Internet in presidential politics. Note that more authentic thematic reviews tend to break away from chronological order. A review organized in this manner would shift between time periods within each section according to the point being made. Methodological A methodological approach focuses on the methods utilized by the researcher. For the Internet in American presidential politics project, one methodological approach would be to look at cultural differences between the portrayal of American presidents on American, British, and French websites. Or the review might focus on the fundraising impact of the Internet on a particular political party. A methodological scope will influence either the types of documents in the review or the way in which these documents are discussed.

Other Sections of Your Literature Review Once you've decided on the organizational method for your literature review, the sections you need to include in the paper should be easy to figure out because they arise from your organizational strategy. In other words, a chronological review would have subsections for each vital time period; a thematic review would have subtopics based upon factors that relate to the theme or issue. However, sometimes you may need to add additional sections that are necessary for your study, but do not fit in the organizational strategy of the body. What other sections you include in the body is up to you. However, only include what is necessary for the reader to locate your study within the larger scholarship about the research problem.

Here are examples of other sections, usually in the form of a single paragraph, you may need to include depending on the type of review you write:

  • Current Situation : Information necessary to understand the current topic or focus of the literature review.
  • Sources Used : Describes the methods and resources [e.g., databases] you used to identify the literature you reviewed.
  • History : The chronological progression of the field, the research literature, or an idea that is necessary to understand the literature review, if the body of the literature review is not already a chronology.
  • Selection Methods : Criteria you used to select (and perhaps exclude) sources in your literature review. For instance, you might explain that your review includes only peer-reviewed [i.e., scholarly] sources.
  • Standards : Description of the way in which you present your information.
  • Questions for Further Research : What questions about the field has the review sparked? How will you further your research as a result of the review?

IV.  Writing Your Literature Review

Once you've settled on how to organize your literature review, you're ready to write each section. When writing your review, keep in mind these issues.

Use Evidence A literature review section is, in this sense, just like any other academic research paper. Your interpretation of the available sources must be backed up with evidence [citations] that demonstrates that what you are saying is valid. Be Selective Select only the most important points in each source to highlight in the review. The type of information you choose to mention should relate directly to the research problem, whether it is thematic, methodological, or chronological. Related items that provide additional information, but that are not key to understanding the research problem, can be included in a list of further readings . Use Quotes Sparingly Some short quotes are appropriate if you want to emphasize a point, or if what an author stated cannot be easily paraphrased. Sometimes you may need to quote certain terminology that was coined by the author, is not common knowledge, or taken directly from the study. Do not use extensive quotes as a substitute for using your own words in reviewing the literature. Summarize and Synthesize Remember to summarize and synthesize your sources within each thematic paragraph as well as throughout the review. Recapitulate important features of a research study, but then synthesize it by rephrasing the study's significance and relating it to your own work and the work of others. Keep Your Own Voice While the literature review presents others' ideas, your voice [the writer's] should remain front and center. For example, weave references to other sources into what you are writing but maintain your own voice by starting and ending the paragraph with your own ideas and wording. Use Caution When Paraphrasing When paraphrasing a source that is not your own, be sure to represent the author's information or opinions accurately and in your own words. Even when paraphrasing an author’s work, you still must provide a citation to that work.

V.  Common Mistakes to Avoid

These are the most common mistakes made in reviewing social science research literature.

  • Sources in your literature review do not clearly relate to the research problem;
  • You do not take sufficient time to define and identify the most relevant sources to use in the literature review related to the research problem;
  • Relies exclusively on secondary analytical sources rather than including relevant primary research studies or data;
  • Uncritically accepts another researcher's findings and interpretations as valid, rather than examining critically all aspects of the research design and analysis;
  • Does not describe the search procedures that were used in identifying the literature to review;
  • Reports isolated statistical results rather than synthesizing them in chi-squared or meta-analytic methods; and,
  • Only includes research that validates assumptions and does not consider contrary findings and alternative interpretations found in the literature.

Cook, Kathleen E. and Elise Murowchick. “Do Literature Review Skills Transfer from One Course to Another?” Psychology Learning and Teaching 13 (March 2014): 3-11; Fink, Arlene. Conducting Research Literature Reviews: From the Internet to Paper . 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2005; Hart, Chris. Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1998; Jesson, Jill. Doing Your Literature Review: Traditional and Systematic Techniques . London: SAGE, 2011; Literature Review Handout. Online Writing Center. Liberty University; Literature Reviews. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Onwuegbuzie, Anthony J. and Rebecca Frels. Seven Steps to a Comprehensive Literature Review: A Multimodal and Cultural Approach . Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2016; Ridley, Diana. The Literature Review: A Step-by-Step Guide for Students . 2nd ed. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2012; Randolph, Justus J. “A Guide to Writing the Dissertation Literature Review." Practical Assessment, Research, and Evaluation. vol. 14, June 2009; Sutton, Anthea. Systematic Approaches to a Successful Literature Review . Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications, 2016; Taylor, Dena. The Literature Review: A Few Tips On Conducting It. University College Writing Centre. University of Toronto; Writing a Literature Review. Academic Skills Centre. University of Canberra.

Writing Tip

Break Out of Your Disciplinary Box!

Thinking interdisciplinarily about a research problem can be a rewarding exercise in applying new ideas, theories, or concepts to an old problem. For example, what might cultural anthropologists say about the continuing conflict in the Middle East? In what ways might geographers view the need for better distribution of social service agencies in large cities than how social workers might study the issue? You don’t want to substitute a thorough review of core research literature in your discipline for studies conducted in other fields of study. However, particularly in the social sciences, thinking about research problems from multiple vectors is a key strategy for finding new solutions to a problem or gaining a new perspective. Consult with a librarian about identifying research databases in other disciplines; almost every field of study has at least one comprehensive database devoted to indexing its research literature.

Frodeman, Robert. The Oxford Handbook of Interdisciplinarity . New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Another Writing Tip

Don't Just Review for Content!

While conducting a review of the literature, maximize the time you devote to writing this part of your paper by thinking broadly about what you should be looking for and evaluating. Review not just what scholars are saying, but how are they saying it. Some questions to ask:

  • How are they organizing their ideas?
  • What methods have they used to study the problem?
  • What theories have been used to explain, predict, or understand their research problem?
  • What sources have they cited to support their conclusions?
  • How have they used non-textual elements [e.g., charts, graphs, figures, etc.] to illustrate key points?

When you begin to write your literature review section, you'll be glad you dug deeper into how the research was designed and constructed because it establishes a means for developing more substantial analysis and interpretation of the research problem.

Hart, Chris. Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1 998.

Yet Another Writing Tip

When Do I Know I Can Stop Looking and Move On?

Here are several strategies you can utilize to assess whether you've thoroughly reviewed the literature:

  • Look for repeating patterns in the research findings . If the same thing is being said, just by different people, then this likely demonstrates that the research problem has hit a conceptual dead end. At this point consider: Does your study extend current research?  Does it forge a new path? Or, does is merely add more of the same thing being said?
  • Look at sources the authors cite to in their work . If you begin to see the same researchers cited again and again, then this is often an indication that no new ideas have been generated to address the research problem.
  • Search Google Scholar to identify who has subsequently cited leading scholars already identified in your literature review [see next sub-tab]. This is called citation tracking and there are a number of sources that can help you identify who has cited whom, particularly scholars from outside of your discipline. Here again, if the same authors are being cited again and again, this may indicate no new literature has been written on the topic.

Onwuegbuzie, Anthony J. and Rebecca Frels. Seven Steps to a Comprehensive Literature Review: A Multimodal and Cultural Approach . Los Angeles, CA: Sage, 2016; Sutton, Anthea. Systematic Approaches to a Successful Literature Review . Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications, 2016.

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What is a literature review?

A literature review is an integrated analysis -- not just a summary-- of scholarly writings and other relevant evidence related directly to your research question.  That is, it represents a synthesis of the evidence that provides background information on your topic and shows a association between the evidence and your research question.

A literature review may be a stand alone work or the introduction to a larger research paper, depending on the assignment.  Rely heavily on the guidelines your instructor has given you.

Why is it important?

A literature review is important because it:

  • Explains the background of research on a topic.
  • Demonstrates why a topic is significant to a subject area.
  • Discovers relationships between research studies/ideas.
  • Identifies major themes, concepts, and researchers on a topic.
  • Identifies critical gaps and points of disagreement.
  • Discusses further research questions that logically come out of the previous studies.

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1. Choose a topic. Define your research question.

Your literature review should be guided by your central research question.  The literature represents background and research developments related to a specific research question, interpreted and analyzed by you in a synthesized way.

  • Make sure your research question is not too broad or too narrow.  Is it manageable?
  • Begin writing down terms that are related to your question. These will be useful for searches later.
  • If you have the opportunity, discuss your topic with your professor and your class mates.

2. Decide on the scope of your review

How many studies do you need to look at? How comprehensive should it be? How many years should it cover? 

  • This may depend on your assignment.  How many sources does the assignment require?

3. Select the databases you will use to conduct your searches.

Make a list of the databases you will search. 

Where to find databases:

  • use the tabs on this guide
  • Find other databases in the Nursing Information Resources web page
  • More on the Medical Library web page
  • ... and more on the Yale University Library web page

4. Conduct your searches to find the evidence. Keep track of your searches.

  • Use the key words in your question, as well as synonyms for those words, as terms in your search. Use the database tutorials for help.
  • Save the searches in the databases. This saves time when you want to redo, or modify, the searches. It is also helpful to use as a guide is the searches are not finding any useful results.
  • Review the abstracts of research studies carefully. This will save you time.
  • Use the bibliographies and references of research studies you find to locate others.
  • Check with your professor, or a subject expert in the field, if you are missing any key works in the field.
  • Ask your librarian for help at any time.
  • Use a citation manager, such as EndNote as the repository for your citations. See the EndNote tutorials for help.

Review the literature

Some questions to help you analyze the research:

  • What was the research question of the study you are reviewing? What were the authors trying to discover?
  • Was the research funded by a source that could influence the findings?
  • What were the research methodologies? Analyze its literature review, the samples and variables used, the results, and the conclusions.
  • Does the research seem to be complete? Could it have been conducted more soundly? What further questions does it raise?
  • If there are conflicting studies, why do you think that is?
  • How are the authors viewed in the field? Has this study been cited? If so, how has it been analyzed?


  • Review the abstracts carefully.  
  • Keep careful notes so that you may track your thought processes during the research process.
  • Create a matrix of the studies for easy analysis, and synthesis, across all of the studies.
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Conducting a literature review: why do a literature review, why do a literature review.

  • How To Find "The Literature"
  • Found it -- Now What?

Besides the obvious reason for students -- because it is assigned! -- a literature review helps you explore the research that has come before you, to see how your research question has (or has not) already been addressed.

You identify:

  • core research in the field
  • experts in the subject area
  • methodology you may want to use (or avoid)
  • gaps in knowledge -- or where your research would fit in

It Also Helps You:

  • Publish and share your findings
  • Justify requests for grants and other funding
  • Identify best practices to inform practice
  • Set wider context for a program evaluation
  • Compile information to support community organizing

Great brief overview, from NCSU

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Writing a Literature Review

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A literature review is a document or section of a document that collects key sources on a topic and discusses those sources in conversation with each other (also called synthesis ). The lit review is an important genre in many disciplines, not just literature (i.e., the study of works of literature such as novels and plays). When we say “literature review” or refer to “the literature,” we are talking about the research ( scholarship ) in a given field. You will often see the terms “the research,” “the scholarship,” and “the literature” used mostly interchangeably.

Where, when, and why would I write a lit review?

There are a number of different situations where you might write a literature review, each with slightly different expectations; different disciplines, too, have field-specific expectations for what a literature review is and does. For instance, in the humanities, authors might include more overt argumentation and interpretation of source material in their literature reviews, whereas in the sciences, authors are more likely to report study designs and results in their literature reviews; these differences reflect these disciplines’ purposes and conventions in scholarship. You should always look at examples from your own discipline and talk to professors or mentors in your field to be sure you understand your discipline’s conventions, for literature reviews as well as for any other genre.

A literature review can be a part of a research paper or scholarly article, usually falling after the introduction and before the research methods sections. In these cases, the lit review just needs to cover scholarship that is important to the issue you are writing about; sometimes it will also cover key sources that informed your research methodology.

Lit reviews can also be standalone pieces, either as assignments in a class or as publications. In a class, a lit review may be assigned to help students familiarize themselves with a topic and with scholarship in their field, get an idea of the other researchers working on the topic they’re interested in, find gaps in existing research in order to propose new projects, and/or develop a theoretical framework and methodology for later research. As a publication, a lit review usually is meant to help make other scholars’ lives easier by collecting and summarizing, synthesizing, and analyzing existing research on a topic. This can be especially helpful for students or scholars getting into a new research area, or for directing an entire community of scholars toward questions that have not yet been answered.

What are the parts of a lit review?

Most lit reviews use a basic introduction-body-conclusion structure; if your lit review is part of a larger paper, the introduction and conclusion pieces may be just a few sentences while you focus most of your attention on the body. If your lit review is a standalone piece, the introduction and conclusion take up more space and give you a place to discuss your goals, research methods, and conclusions separately from where you discuss the literature itself.


  • An introductory paragraph that explains what your working topic and thesis is
  • A forecast of key topics or texts that will appear in the review
  • Potentially, a description of how you found sources and how you analyzed them for inclusion and discussion in the review (more often found in published, standalone literature reviews than in lit review sections in an article or research paper)
  • Summarize and synthesize: Give an overview of the main points of each source and combine them into a coherent whole
  • Analyze and interpret: Don’t just paraphrase other researchers – add your own interpretations where possible, discussing the significance of findings in relation to the literature as a whole
  • Critically Evaluate: Mention the strengths and weaknesses of your sources
  • Write in well-structured paragraphs: Use transition words and topic sentence to draw connections, comparisons, and contrasts.


  • Summarize the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasize their significance
  • Connect it back to your primary research question

How should I organize my lit review?

Lit reviews can take many different organizational patterns depending on what you are trying to accomplish with the review. Here are some examples:

  • Chronological : The simplest approach is to trace the development of the topic over time, which helps familiarize the audience with the topic (for instance if you are introducing something that is not commonly known in your field). If you choose this strategy, be careful to avoid simply listing and summarizing sources in order. Try to analyze the patterns, turning points, and key debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred (as mentioned previously, this may not be appropriate in your discipline — check with a teacher or mentor if you’re unsure).
  • Thematic : If you have found some recurring central themes that you will continue working with throughout your piece, you can organize your literature review into subsections that address different aspects of the topic. For example, if you are reviewing literature about women and religion, key themes can include the role of women in churches and the religious attitude towards women.
  • Qualitative versus quantitative research
  • Empirical versus theoretical scholarship
  • Divide the research by sociological, historical, or cultural sources
  • Theoretical : In many humanities articles, the literature review is the foundation for the theoretical framework. You can use it to discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts. You can argue for the relevance of a specific theoretical approach or combine various theorical concepts to create a framework for your research.

What are some strategies or tips I can use while writing my lit review?

Any lit review is only as good as the research it discusses; make sure your sources are well-chosen and your research is thorough. Don’t be afraid to do more research if you discover a new thread as you’re writing. More info on the research process is available in our "Conducting Research" resources .

As you’re doing your research, create an annotated bibliography ( see our page on the this type of document ). Much of the information used in an annotated bibliography can be used also in a literature review, so you’ll be not only partially drafting your lit review as you research, but also developing your sense of the larger conversation going on among scholars, professionals, and any other stakeholders in your topic.

Usually you will need to synthesize research rather than just summarizing it. This means drawing connections between sources to create a picture of the scholarly conversation on a topic over time. Many student writers struggle to synthesize because they feel they don’t have anything to add to the scholars they are citing; here are some strategies to help you:

  • It often helps to remember that the point of these kinds of syntheses is to show your readers how you understand your research, to help them read the rest of your paper.
  • Writing teachers often say synthesis is like hosting a dinner party: imagine all your sources are together in a room, discussing your topic. What are they saying to each other?
  • Look at the in-text citations in each paragraph. Are you citing just one source for each paragraph? This usually indicates summary only. When you have multiple sources cited in a paragraph, you are more likely to be synthesizing them (not always, but often
  • Read more about synthesis here.

The most interesting literature reviews are often written as arguments (again, as mentioned at the beginning of the page, this is discipline-specific and doesn’t work for all situations). Often, the literature review is where you can establish your research as filling a particular gap or as relevant in a particular way. You have some chance to do this in your introduction in an article, but the literature review section gives a more extended opportunity to establish the conversation in the way you would like your readers to see it. You can choose the intellectual lineage you would like to be part of and whose definitions matter most to your thinking (mostly humanities-specific, but this goes for sciences as well). In addressing these points, you argue for your place in the conversation, which tends to make the lit review more compelling than a simple reporting of other sources.

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A literature review is a discussion of the literature (aka. the "research" or "scholarship") surrounding a certain topic. A good literature review doesn't simply summarize the existing material, but provides thoughtful synthesis and analysis. The purpose of a literature review is to orient your own work within an existing body of knowledge. A literature review may be written as a standalone piece or be included in a larger body of work.

You can read more about literature reviews, what they entail, and how to write one, using the resources below. 

Am I the only one struggling to write a literature review?

Dr. Zina O'Leary explains the misconceptions and struggles students often have with writing a literature review. She also provides step-by-step guidance on writing a persuasive literature review.

An Introduction to Literature Reviews

Dr. Eric Jensen, Professor of Sociology at the University of Warwick, and Dr. Charles Laurie, Director of Research at Verisk Maplecroft, explain how to write a literature review, and why researchers need to do so. Literature reviews can be stand-alone research or part of a larger project. They communicate the state of academic knowledge on a given topic, specifically detailing what is still unknown.

This is the first video in a whole series about literature reviews. You can find the rest of the series in our SAGE database, Research Methods:


Videos covering research methods and statistics

Identify Themes and Gaps in Literature (with real examples) | Scribbr

Finding connections between sources is key to organizing the arguments and structure of a good literature review. In this video, you'll learn how to identify themes, debates, and gaps between sources, using examples from real papers.

4 Tips for Writing a Literature Review's Intro, Body, and Conclusion | Scribbr

While each review will be unique in its structure--based on both the existing body of both literature and the overall goals of your own paper, dissertation, or research--this video from Scribbr does a good job simplifying the goals of writing a literature review for those who are new to the process. In this video, you’ll learn what to include in each section, as well as 4 tips for the main body illustrated with an example.

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  • Literature Review This chapter in SAGE's Encyclopedia of Research Design describes the types of literature reviews and scientific standards for conducting literature reviews.
  • UNC Writing Center: Literature Reviews This handout from the Writing Center at UNC will explain what literature reviews are and offer insights into the form and construction of literature reviews in the humanities, social sciences, and sciences.
  • Purdue OWL: Writing a Literature Review The overview of literature reviews comes from Purdue's Online Writing Lab. It explains the basic why, what, and how of writing a literature review.

Organizational Tools for Literature Reviews

One of the most daunting aspects of writing a literature review is organizing your research. There are a variety of strategies that you can use to help you in this task. We've highlighted just a few ways writers keep track of all that information! You can use a combination of these tools or come up with your own organizational process. The key is choosing something that works with your own learning style.

Citation Managers

Citation managers are great tools, in general, for organizing research, but can be especially helpful when writing a literature review. You can keep all of your research in one place, take notes, and organize your materials into different folders or categories. Read more about citations managers here:

  • Manage Citations & Sources

Concept Mapping

Some writers use concept mapping (sometimes called flow or bubble charts or "mind maps") to help them visualize the ways in which the research they found connects.

the literature study

There is no right or wrong way to make a concept map. There are a variety of online tools that can help you create a concept map or you can simply put pen to paper. To read more about concept mapping, take a look at the following help guides:

  • Using Concept Maps From Williams College's guide, Literature Review: A Self-guided Tutorial

Synthesis Matrix

A synthesis matrix is is a chart you can use to help you organize your research into thematic categories. By organizing your research into a matrix, like the examples below, can help you visualize the ways in which your sources connect. 

  • Walden University Writing Center: Literature Review Matrix Find a variety of literature review matrix examples and templates from Walden University.
  • Writing A Literature Review and Using a Synthesis Matrix An example synthesis matrix created by NC State University Writing and Speaking Tutorial Service Tutors. If you would like a copy of this synthesis matrix in a different format, like a Word document, please ask a librarian. CC-BY-SA 3.0
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Literature Review  is a comprehensive survey of the works published in a particular field of study or line of research, usually over a specific period of time, in the form of an in-depth, critical bibliographic essay or annotated list in which attention is drawn to the most significant works.

Also, we can define a literature review as the collected body of scholarly works related to a topic:

  • Summarizes and analyzes previous research relevant to a topic
  • Includes scholarly books and articles published in academic journals
  • Can be an specific scholarly paper or a section in a research paper

The objective of a Literature Review is to find previous published scholarly works relevant to an specific topic

  • Help gather ideas or information
  • Keep up to date in current trends and findings
  • Help develop new questions

A literature review is important because it:

  • Explains the background of research on a topic.
  • Demonstrates why a topic is significant to a subject area.
  • Helps focus your own research questions or problems
  • Discovers relationships between research studies/ideas.
  • Suggests unexplored ideas or populations
  • Identifies major themes, concepts, and researchers on a topic.
  • Tests assumptions; may help counter preconceived ideas and remove unconscious bias.
  • Identifies critical gaps, points of disagreement, or potentially flawed methodology or theoretical approaches.
  • Indicates potential directions for future research.

All content in this section is from Literature Review Research from Old Dominion University 

Keep in mind the following, a literature review is NOT:

Not an essay 

Not an annotated bibliography  in which you summarize each article that you have reviewed.  A literature review goes beyond basic summarizing to focus on the critical analysis of the reviewed works and their relationship to your research question.

Not a research paper   where you select resources to support one side of an issue versus another.  A lit review should explain and consider all sides of an argument in order to avoid bias, and areas of agreement and disagreement should be highlighted.

A literature review serves several purposes. For example, it

  • provides thorough knowledge of previous studies; introduces seminal works.
  • helps focus one’s own research topic.
  • identifies a conceptual framework for one’s own research questions or problems; indicates potential directions for future research.
  • suggests previously unused or underused methodologies, designs, quantitative and qualitative strategies.
  • identifies gaps in previous studies; identifies flawed methodologies and/or theoretical approaches; avoids replication of mistakes.
  • helps the researcher avoid repetition of earlier research.
  • suggests unexplored populations.
  • determines whether past studies agree or disagree; identifies controversy in the literature.
  • tests assumptions; may help counter preconceived ideas and remove unconscious bias.

As Kennedy (2007) notes*, it is important to think of knowledge in a given field as consisting of three layers. First, there are the primary studies that researchers conduct and publish. Second are the reviews of those studies that summarize and offer new interpretations built from and often extending beyond the original studies. Third, there are the perceptions, conclusions, opinion, and interpretations that are shared informally that become part of the lore of field. In composing a literature review, it is important to note that it is often this third layer of knowledge that is cited as "true" even though it often has only a loose relationship to the primary studies and secondary literature reviews.

Given this, while literature reviews are designed to provide an overview and synthesis of pertinent sources you have explored, there are several approaches to how they can be done, depending upon the type of analysis underpinning your study. Listed below are definitions of types of literature reviews:

Argumentative Review      This form examines literature selectively in order to support or refute an argument, deeply imbedded assumption, or philosophical problem already established in the literature. The purpose is to develop a body of literature that establishes a contrarian viewpoint. Given the value-laden nature of some social science research [e.g., educational reform; immigration control], argumentative approaches to analyzing the literature can be a legitimate and important form of discourse. However, note that they can also introduce problems of bias when they are used to to make summary claims of the sort found in systematic reviews.

Integrative Review      Considered a form of research that reviews, critiques, and synthesizes representative literature on a topic in an integrated way such that new frameworks and perspectives on the topic are generated. The body of literature includes all studies that address related or identical hypotheses. A well-done integrative review meets the same standards as primary research in regard to clarity, rigor, and replication.

Historical Review      Few things rest in isolation from historical precedent. Historical reviews are focused on examining research throughout a period of time, often starting with the first time an issue, concept, theory, phenomena emerged in the literature, then tracing its evolution within the scholarship of a discipline. The purpose is to place research in a historical context to show familiarity with state-of-the-art developments and to identify the likely directions for future research.

Methodological Review      A review does not always focus on what someone said [content], but how they said it [method of analysis]. This approach provides a framework of understanding at different levels (i.e. those of theory, substantive fields, research approaches and data collection and analysis techniques), enables researchers to draw on a wide variety of knowledge ranging from the conceptual level to practical documents for use in fieldwork in the areas of ontological and epistemological consideration, quantitative and qualitative integration, sampling, interviewing, data collection and data analysis, and helps highlight many ethical issues which we should be aware of and consider as we go through our study.

Systematic Review      This form consists of an overview of existing evidence pertinent to a clearly formulated research question, which uses pre-specified and standardized methods to identify and critically appraise relevant research, and to collect, report, and analyse data from the studies that are included in the review. Typically it focuses on a very specific empirical question, often posed in a cause-and-effect form, such as "To what extent does A contribute to B?"

Theoretical Review      The purpose of this form is to concretely examine the corpus of theory that has accumulated in regard to an issue, concept, theory, phenomena. The theoretical literature review help establish what theories already exist, the relationships between them, to what degree the existing theories have been investigated, and to develop new hypotheses to be tested. Often this form is used to help establish a lack of appropriate theories or reveal that current theories are inadequate for explaining new or emerging research problems. The unit of analysis can focus on a theoretical concept or a whole theory or framework.

* Kennedy, Mary M. "Defining a Literature."  Educational Researcher  36 (April 2007): 139-147.

All content in this section is from The Literature Review created by Dr. Robert Larabee USC

Robinson, P. and Lowe, J. (2015),  Literature reviews vs systematic reviews.  Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 39: 103-103. doi: 10.1111/1753-6405.12393

the literature study

What's in the name? The difference between a Systematic Review and a Literature Review, and why it matters . By Lynn Kysh from University of Southern California

the literature study

Systematic review or meta-analysis?

A  systematic review  answers a defined research question by collecting and summarizing all empirical evidence that fits pre-specified eligibility criteria.

A  meta-analysis  is the use of statistical methods to summarize the results of these studies.

Systematic reviews, just like other research articles, can be of varying quality. They are a significant piece of work (the Centre for Reviews and Dissemination at York estimates that a team will take 9-24 months), and to be useful to other researchers and practitioners they should have:

  • clearly stated objectives with pre-defined eligibility criteria for studies
  • explicit, reproducible methodology
  • a systematic search that attempts to identify all studies
  • assessment of the validity of the findings of the included studies (e.g. risk of bias)
  • systematic presentation, and synthesis, of the characteristics and findings of the included studies

Not all systematic reviews contain meta-analysis. 

Meta-analysis is the use of statistical methods to summarize the results of independent studies. By combining information from all relevant studies, meta-analysis can provide more precise estimates of the effects of health care than those derived from the individual studies included within a review.  More information on meta-analyses can be found in  Cochrane Handbook, Chapter 9 .

A meta-analysis goes beyond critique and integration and conducts secondary statistical analysis on the outcomes of similar studies.  It is a systematic review that uses quantitative methods to synthesize and summarize the results.

An advantage of a meta-analysis is the ability to be completely objective in evaluating research findings.  Not all topics, however, have sufficient research evidence to allow a meta-analysis to be conducted.  In that case, an integrative review is an appropriate strategy. 

Some of the content in this section is from Systematic reviews and meta-analyses: step by step guide created by Kate McAllister.

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What is a Literature Review?

A literature or narrative review is a comprehensive review and analysis of the published literature on a specific topic or research question. The literature that is reviewed contains: books, articles, academic articles, conference proceedings, association papers, and dissertations. It contains the most pertinent studies and points to important past and current research and practices. It provides background and context, and shows how your research will contribute to the field. 

A literature review should: 

  • Provide a comprehensive and updated review of the literature;
  • Explain why this review has taken place;
  • Articulate a position or hypothesis;
  • Acknowledge and account for conflicting and corroborating points of view

From  S age Research Methods

Purpose of a Literature Review

A literature review can be written as an introduction to a study to:

  • Demonstrate how a study fills a gap in research
  • Compare a study with other research that's been done

Or it can be a separate work (a research article on its own) which:

  • Organizes or describes a topic
  • Describes variables within a particular issue/problem

Limitations of a Literature Review

Some of the limitations of a literature review are:

  • It's a snapshot in time. Unlike other reviews, this one has beginning, a middle and an end. There may be future developments that could make your work less relevant.
  • It may be too focused. Some niche studies may miss the bigger picture.
  • It can be difficult to be comprehensive. There is no way to make sure all the literature on a topic was considered.
  • It is easy to be biased if you stick to top tier journals. There may be other places where people are publishing exemplary research. Look to open access publications and conferences to reflect a more inclusive collection. Also, make sure to include opposing views (and not just supporting evidence).

Source: Grant, Maria J., and Andrew Booth. “A Typology of Reviews: An Analysis of 14 Review Types and Associated Methodologies.” Health Information & Libraries Journal, vol. 26, no. 2, June 2009, pp. 91–108. Wiley Online Library, doi:10.1111/j.1471-1842.2009.00848.x.

Meryl Brodsky : Communication and Information Studies

Hannah Chapman Tripp : Biology, Neuroscience

Carolyn Cunningham : Human Development & Family Sciences, Psychology, Sociology

Larayne Dallas : Engineering

Janelle Hedstrom : Special Education, Curriculum & Instruction, Ed Leadership & Policy ​

Susan Macicak : Linguistics

Imelda Vetter : Dell Medical School

For help in other subject areas, please see the guide to library specialists by subject .

Periodically, UT Libraries runs a workshop covering the basics and library support for literature reviews. While we try to offer these once per academic year, we find providing the recording to be helpful to community members who have missed the session. Following is the most recent recording of the workshop, Conducting a Literature Review. To view the recording, a UT login is required.

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1 What Is Literature and Why Do We Study It?

the literature study

In this book created for my English 211 Literary Analysis introductory course for English literature and creative writing majors at the College of Western Idaho, I’ll introduce several different critical approaches that literary scholars may use to answer these questions.  The critical method we apply to a text can provide us with different perspectives as we learn to interpret a text and appreciate its meaning and beauty.

The existence of literature, however we define it, implies that we study literature. While people have been “studying” literature as long as literature has existed, the formal study of literature as we know it in college English literature courses began in the 1940s with the advent of New Criticism. The New Critics were formalists with a vested interest in defining literature–they were, after all, both creating and teaching about literary works. For them, literary criticism was, in fact, as John Crowe Ransom wrote in his 1942 essay “ Criticism, Inc., ” nothing less than “the business of literature.”

Responding to the concern that the study of literature at the university level was often more concerned with the history and life of the author than with the text itself, Ransom responded, “the students of the future must be permitted to study literature, and not merely about literature. But I think this is what the good students have always wanted to do. The wonder is that they have allowed themselves so long to be denied.”

We’ll learn more about New Criticism in Section Three. For now, let’s return to the two questions I posed earlier.

What is literature?

First, what is literature ? I know your high school teacher told you never to look up things on Wikipedia, but for the purposes of literary studies, Wikipedia can actually be an effective resource. You’ll notice that I link to Wikipedia articles occasionally in this book. Here’s how Wikipedia defines literature :

“ Literature  is any collection of  written  work, but it is also used more narrowly for writings specifically considered to be an  art  form, especially  prose   fiction ,  drama , and  poetry . [1]  In recent centuries, the definition has expanded to include  oral literature , much of which has been transcribed. [2] Literature is a method of recording, preserving, and transmitting knowledge and entertainment, and can also have a social, psychological, spiritual, or political role.”

This definition is well-suited for our purposes here because throughout this course, we will be considering several types of literary texts in a variety of contexts.

I’m a Classicist—a student of Greece and Rome and everything they touched—so I am always interested in words with Latin roots. The Latin root of our modern word literature  is  litera , or “letter.” Literature, then, is inextricably intertwined with the act of writing. But what kind of writing?

Who decides which texts are “literature”?

The second question is at least as important as the first one. If we agree that literature is somehow special and different from ordinary writing, then who decides which writings count as literature? Are English professors the only people who get to decide? What qualifications and training does someone need to determine whether or not a text is literature? What role do you as the reader play in this decision about a text?

Let’s consider a few examples of things that we would all probably classify as literature. I think we can all (probably) agree that the works of William Shakespeare are literature. We can look at Toni Morrison’s outstanding ouvre of work and conclude, along with the Nobel Prize Committee, that books such as Beloved   and  Song of Solomon   are literature. And if you’re taking a creative writing course and have been assigned the short stories of Raymond Carver or the poems of Joy Harjo , you’re probably convinced that these texts are literature too.

In each of these three cases, a different “deciding” mechanism is at play. First, with Shakespeare, there’s history and tradition. These plays that were written 500 years ago are still performed around the world and taught in high school and college English classes today. It seems we have consensus about the tragedies, histories, comedies, and sonnets of the Bard of Avon (or whoever wrote the plays).

In the second case, if you haven’t heard of Toni Morrison (and I am very sorry if you haven’t), you probably have heard of the Nobel Prize. This is one of the most prestigious awards given in literature, and since she’s a winner, we can safely assume that Toni Morrison’s works are literature.

Finally, your creative writing professor is an expert in their field. You know they have an MFA (and worked hard for it), so when they share their favorite short stories or poems with you, you trust that they are sharing works considered to be literature, even if you haven’t heard of Raymond Carver or Joy Harjo before taking their class.

(Aside: What about fanfiction? Is fanfiction literature?)

We may have to save the debate about fan fiction for another day, though I introduced it because there’s some fascinating and even literary award-winning fan fiction out there.

Returning to our question, what role do we as readers play in deciding whether something is literature? Like John Crowe Ransom quoted above, I think that the definition of literature should depend on more than the opinions of literary critics and literature professors.

I also want to note that contrary to some opinions, plenty of so-called genre fiction can also be classified as literature. The Nobel Prize winning author Kazuo Ishiguro has written both science fiction and historical fiction. Iain Banks , the British author of the critically acclaimed novel The Wasp Factory , published popular science fiction novels under the name Iain M. Banks. In other words, genre alone can’t tell us whether something is literature or not.

In this book, I want to give you the tools to decide for yourself. We’ll do this by exploring several different critical approaches that we can take to determine how a text functions and whether it is literature. These lenses can reveal different truths about the text, about our culture, and about ourselves as readers and scholars.

“Turf Wars”: Literary criticism vs. authors

It’s important to keep in mind that literature and literary theory have existed in conversation with each other since Aristotle used Sophocles’s play Oedipus Rex to define tragedy. We’ll look at how critical theory and literature complement and disagree with each other throughout this book. For most of literary history, the conversation was largely a friendly one.

But in the twenty-first century, there’s a rising tension between literature and criticism. In his 2016 book Literature Against Criticism: University English and Contemporary Fiction in Conflict, literary scholar Martin Paul Eve argues that twenty-first century authors have developed

a series of novelistic techniques that, whether deliberate or not on the part of the author, function to outmanoeuvre, contain, and determine academic reading practices. This desire to discipline university English through the manipulation and restriction of possible hermeneutic paths is, I contend, a result firstly of the fact that the metafictional paradigm of the high-postmodern era has pitched critical and creative discourses into a type of productive competition with one another. Such tensions and overlaps (or ‘turf wars’) have only increased in light of the ongoing breakdown of coherent theoretical definitions of ‘literature’ as distinct from ‘criticism’ (15).

One of Eve’s points is that by narrowly and rigidly defining the boundaries of literature, university English professors have inadvertently created a situation where the market increasingly defines what “literature” is, despite the protestations of the academy. In other words, the gatekeeper role that literary criticism once played is no longer as important to authors. For example, (almost) no one would call 50 Shades of Grey literature—but the salacious E.L James novel was the bestselling book of the decade from 2010-2019, with more than 35 million copies sold worldwide.

If anyone with a blog can get a six-figure publishing deal , does it still matter that students know how to recognize and analyze literature? I think so, for a few reasons.

  • First, the practice of reading critically helps you to become a better reader and writer, which will help you to succeed not only in college English courses but throughout your academic and professional career.
  • Second, analysis is a highly sought after and transferable skill. By learning to analyze literature, you’ll practice the same skills you would use to analyze anything important. “Data analyst” is one of the most sought after job positions in the New Economy—and if you can analyze Shakespeare, you can analyze data. Indeed.com’s list of top 10 transferable skills includes analytical skills , which they define as “the traits and abilities that allow you to observe, research and interpret a subject in order to develop complex ideas and solutions.”
  • Finally, and for me personally, most importantly, reading and understanding literature makes life make sense. As we read literature, we expand our sense of what is possible for ourselves and for humanity. In the challenges we collectively face today, understanding the world and our place in it will be important for imagining new futures.

A note about using generative artificial intelligence

As I was working on creating this textbook, ChatGPT exploded into academic consciousness. Excited about the possibilities of this new tool, I immediately began incorporating it into my classroom teaching. In this book, I have used ChatGPT to help me with outlining content in chapters. I also used ChatGPT to create sample essays for each critical lens we will study in the course. These essays are dry and rather soulless, but they do a good job of modeling how to apply a specific theory to a literary text. I chose John Donne’s poem “The Canonization” as the text for these essays so that you can see how the different theories illuminate different aspects of the text.

I encourage students in my courses to use ChatGPT in the following ways:

  • To generate ideas about an approach to a text.
  • To better understand basic concepts.
  • To assist with outlining an essay.
  • To check grammar, punctuation, spelling, paragraphing, and other grammar/syntax issues.

If you choose to use Chat GPT, please include a brief acknowledgment statement as an appendix to your paper after your Works Cited page explaining how you have used the tool in your work. Here is an example of how to do this from Monash University’s “ Acknowledging the Use of Generative Artificial Intelligence .”

I acknowledge the use of [insert AI system(s) and link] to [specific use of generative artificial intelligence]. The prompts used include [list of prompts]. The output from these prompts was used to [explain use].

Here is more information about how to cite the use of generative AI like ChatGPT in your work. The information below was adapted from “Acknowledging and Citing Generative AI in Academic Work” by Liza Long (CC BY 4.0).

The Modern Language Association (MLA) uses a template of core elements to create citations for a Works Cited page. MLA  asks students to apply this approach when citing any type of generative AI in their work. They provide the following guidelines:

Cite a generative AI tool whenever you paraphrase, quote, or incorporate into your own work any content (whether text, image, data, or other) that was created by it. Acknowledge all functional uses of the tool (like editing your prose or translating words) in a note, your text, or another suitable location. Take care to vet the secondary sources it cites. (MLA)

Here are some examples of how to use and cite generative AI with MLA style:

Example One: Paraphrasing Text

Let’s say that I am trying to generate ideas for a paper on Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story “The Yellow Wallpaper.” I ask ChatGPT to provide me with a summary and identify the story’s main themes. Here’s a  link to the chat . I decide that I will explore the problem of identity and self-expression in my paper.

My Paraphrase of ChatGPT with In-Text Citation

The problem of identity and self expression, especially for nineteenth-century women, is a major theme in “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (“Summarize the short story”).

Image of "Yellow Wallpaper Summary" chat with ChatGPT

Works Cited Entry

“Summarize the short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Include a breakdown of the main themes” prompt.  ChatGPT.  24 May Version, OpenAI, 20 Jul. 2023,  https://chat.openai.com/share/d1526b95-920c-48fc-a9be-83cd7dfa4be5 

Example Two: Quoting Text

In the same chat, I continue to ask ChatGPT about the theme of identity and self expression. Here’s an example of how I could quote the response in the body of my paper:

When I asked  ChatGPT  to describe the theme of identity and self expression, it noted that the eponymous yellow wallpaper acts as a symbol of the narrator’s self-repression. However, when prompted to share the scholarly sources that formed the basis of this observation,  ChatGPT  responded, “As an AI language model, I don’t have access to my training data, but I was trained on a mixture of licensed data, data created by human trainers, and publicly available data. OpenAI, the organization behind my development, has not publicly disclosed the specifics of the individual datasets used, including whether scholarly sources were specifically used” (“Summarize the short story”).

It’s worth noting here that ChatGPT can “ hallucinate ” fake sources. As a Microsoft training manual notes, these chatbots are “built to be persuasive, not truthful” (Weiss &Metz, 2023). The May 24, 2023 version will no longer respond to direct requests for references; however, I was able to get around this restriction fairly easily by asking for “resources” instead.

When I ask for resources to learn more about “The Yellow Wallpaper,” here is one source it recommends:

“Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper: A Symptomatic Reading” by Elaine R. Hedges: This scholarly article delves into the psychological and feminist themes of the story, analyzing the narrator’s experience and the implications of the yellow wallpaper on her mental state. It’s available in the journal “Studies in Short Fiction.” (“Summarize the short story”).

Using Google Scholar, I look up this source to see if it’s real. Unsurprisingly, this source is not a real one, but it does lead me to another (real) source: Kasmer, Lisa. “Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s’ The Yellow Wallpaper’: A Symptomatic Reading.”  Literature and Psychology  36.3 (1990): 1.

Note: ALWAYS check any sources that ChatGPT or other generative AI tools recommend.

For more information about integrating and citing generative artificial intelligence tools such as ChatGPT, please see this section of  Write What Matters.

I acknowledge that ChatGPT does not respect the individual rights of authors and artists and ignores concerns over copyright and intellectual property in its training; additionally, I acknowledge that the system was trained in part through the exploitation of precarious workers in the global south. In this work I specifically used ChatGPT to assist with outlining chapters, providing background information about critical lenses, and creating “model” essays for the critical lenses we will learn about together. I have included links to my chats in an appendix to this book.

Critical theories: A targeted approach to writing about literature

Ultimately, there’s not one “right” way to read a text. In this book. we will explore a variety of critical theories that scholars use to analyze literature. The book is organized around different targets that are associated with the approach introduced in each chapter. In the introduction, for example, our target is literature. In future chapters you’ll explore these targeted analysis techniques:

  • Author: Biographical Criticism
  • Text: New Criticism
  • Reader: Reader Response Criticism
  • Gap: Deconstruction (Post-Structuralism)
  • Context: New Historicism and Cultural Studies
  • Power: Marxist and Postcolonial Criticism
  • Mind: Psychological Criticism
  • Gender: Feminist, Post Feminist, and Queer Theory
  • Nature: Ecocriticism

Each chapter will feature the target image with the central approach in the center. You’ll read a brief introduction about the theory, explore some primary texts (both critical and literary), watch a video, and apply the theory to a primary text. Each one of these theories could be the subject of its own entire course, so keep in mind that our goal in this book is to introduce these theories and give you a basic familiarity with these tools for literary analysis. For more information and practice, I recommend Steven Lynn’s excellent Texts and Contexts: Writing about Literature with Critical Theory , which provides a similar introductory framework.

I am so excited to share these tools with you and see you grow as a literary scholar. As we explore each of these critical worlds, you’ll likely find that some critical theories feel more natural or logical to you than others. I find myself much more comfortable with deconstruction than with psychological criticism, for example. Pay attention to how these theories work for you because this will help you to expand your approaches to texts and prepare you for more advanced courses in literature.

P.S. If you want to know what my favorite book is, I usually tell people it’s Herman Melville’s Moby Dick . And I do love that book! But I really have no idea what my “favorite” book of all time is, let alone what my favorite book was last year. Every new book that I read is a window into another world and a template for me to make sense out of my own experience and better empathize with others. That’s why I love literature. I hope you’ll love this experience too.

writings in prose or verse, especially :  writings having excellence of form or expression and expressing ideas of permanent or universal interest (Merriam Webster)

Critical Worlds Copyright © 2024 by Liza Long is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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  • Literary Studies

Literary Studies is the study of written works of the imagination, of which poetry, drama and narrative fiction constitute today the most familiar types or genres. Most students and teachers of literature, however, see it as a more complex matter. It might be more accurate to describe it as a set of methods for examining the richness and diversity of experience through unusual uses of language, through a language that we recognize as different from everyday language and that thereby aspires to produce a reflection of and on the world not available to us otherwise. As such, literary works are also primary documents for investigating national histories, world events, the individual psyche, race, class, gender, science, economics, religion, the natural world, leisure and the other arts. Because literary studies engages with countless other disciplines, it is among the most interdisciplinary of any field of study.

Gloria Allaire, Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts; chivalric literature; Arthurian romances in Italian reworkings

Molly T. Blasing , 9th-21st century Russian poetry; photography and poetic writing; lyric theory; the Russian short story; madness in Russian literature and culture

Jianjun He , Early Chinese intellectual history; Classical Chinese poetry and late-imperial vernacular fiction

Julie Human, Medieval French romance, Arthurian literature

Harald Höbusch, Literature and Politics (Thomas Mann, Literature of the Weimar Republic), Expedition Literature, Youth Literature

Liang Luo, Chinese literature and culture, Sino-Japanese literary and cultural interactions, East Asian performance literature and popular culture

Milena Minkova,  Latin tradition in its continuity and globality; Medieval Latin and Neo-Latin; Latin Composition; Latin Pedagogy and Active Latin

Jeffrey Peters , Early Modern French Literature and Culture; Philosophies of Space; Masculinity and Rhetoric

Leon Sachs , History and culture of education, literary education, French republicanism, representations of war, science and literature, ecocriticism

Douglas Slaymaker , Film; Visual Arts; 20th-Century Japanese Fiction; Japanese Experience of France; Travel and Travel Writing

Jennifer Tunberg, Neo-Latin Fiction

Ghadir Zannoun , Modern Arabic Literature; Arab Women Writers; Nationalism in Modern Arabic Literature

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Why Study Literature?

05.15.2023 • 5 min read

Learn about the value and benefits of studying literature: how it develops our skills as well as shapes our understanding of the society we live in.

What Is Literature?

The benefits of studying literature.

Literature & Outlier.org

Many libraries in the U.S. are under attack.

From small towns to big cities, it’s more common to see protests outside of libraries. Libraries are under the microscope and being scrutinized for what content they have on their shelves.

Some people see certain books as a threat to society. While others believe everyone has a right to access any information they wish. The fact is literature is so powerful some people see it as dangerous and want to choose what the public has a right to read.

This is not the first time in history that people have tried to censor literature for what it says. So what really is literature and why is it so powerful?

In this article, we’ll define literature, talk about the history of literature, and the benefits of studying literature in college.

Literature is an art form that uses language to create imaginative experiences. It includes poetry, drama, fiction, and nonfiction.

Literature communicates ideas and emotions.It entertains, educates, and inspires readers. Literature explores complex themes and is an important part of human culture.

From its original Latin derivative, "writing formed with letters," to its current definition, a "body of written works," our understanding of literature has evolved.

Literature explains society and culture. It both criticizes and affirms cultural values based on the writer’s perceptions. It expresses and explores the human condition. It looks back to the past and onward toward the future.

As literature represents the culture and history of a language or people, the study of literature has great value. To study literature means looking deeply into a large body of written work and examining it as an art form.

Of course, there are many different literary genres, or types of literature. At a liberal arts school , a literature program, a student would study these genres extensively and understand the historical and cultural context they represent.

Literary Fiction vs. Genre Fiction

Students in a college literature program examine many forms of literature, including:

Some definitions of literature separate fiction into 2 categories: literary fiction and genre fiction. Genre fiction consists of more popular literature read for entertainment. Some examples of genre fiction include crime, fantasy, and science fiction stories.

Literary fiction explores themes of the human condition. These stories cannot be further categorized and are read primarily for a philosophical search for the meaning of life. Examples of literary fiction include The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Beloved by Toni Morrison.

You can discover more distinctions by studying literature in depth.

1. Literature Develops Communication Skills

The foundation of literature is the English Language. By reading literature, you can improve your knowledge of language: vocabulary, grammar, sentence structure, content creation, and more. When you immerse yourself in William Shakespeare, Celeste Ng, or Chinua Achebe, you're absorbing new words, expressions, and ideas—without even realizing it.

You can use everything you learn to improve your own writing and communication skills . You will use these skills beyond high school and college. In our everyday lives, we navigate personal relationships, craft emails, present projects, collaborate with teammates, analyze data, and more.

Yuval Noah Harari has written much of his own literature on the history and success of the human race. In his book Sapiens, he emphasizes our ability to craft stories as one of our most valuable skills: " Fiction has enabled us not merely to imagine things, but to do so collectively.” Through these collective stories, we learn about the human experience, both in smaller interpersonal ways and on a larger, more global scale.

2. Literature Teaches Us About the Human Condition

Literature helps us reflect on the human experience, teaching us about who we are and the world we live in. It presents a range of emotions, from love to anger to grief to happiness. It gives us insight and context about societal norms and cultural traditions.

It explores our history and our present; it imagines our futures. It introduces us to new ways of thinking and living, compelling us to think critically and creatively about our own experiences.

Through literature, we see we're not alone in our thoughts and feelings. The characters we read about have already experienced similar difficulties and worked to solve or change them, giving us the blueprint to do the same.

Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice goes beyond social commentary to explore the complexities of familial relationships, romantic relationships, and friendships. Mr. Darcy insults Elizabeth Bennet without meaning to, Elizabeth Bennet makes harsh judgments without knowing all the facts, and Mrs. Bennet worries about her daughter's future constantly. We can see ourselves in them.

3. Literature Teaches Us About Empathy

When we connect with literature's characters and narratives, we learn how to empathize with others. While we’re not physically experiencing the raging seas in Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse or the loss of a loved one in William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, we are swept up in the story and the emotion. This helps us develop empathy and emotional intelligence.

In a 2006 study , professors at the University of Toronto concluded a lifetime exposure to literary fiction positively correlated with advanced social ability. In 2020, the Harvard Business Review encouraged business students to read literary works to enhance their abilities to keep an open mind, process information, and make effective decisions.

4. Literature Helps Us Explore New Ideas

With words, and not actions, authors create spaces where we can explore new ideas, new structures, new concepts, and new products. When the only limit is your imagination, anything is possible in creative writing.

We can dive into the past to understand British society at the turn of the 19th century in Austen's Pride and Prejudice or jump into potential futures through Harari's Homo Deus. We can consider alternative futures like that in George Orwell's 1984 or conduct experiments in Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

We don't encounter monsters or humanoid robots in our everyday lives (at least we hope not!). But when we explore them through literature, we’re equipped to consider, challenge, and analyze concepts we don't yet know or understand. This practice opens our minds and allows us to be more flexible when we face the new and unknown. These critical thinking skills enable us to process information easier.

5. Literature Changes the Way We Think

With everything we learn from literature and the skills it helps us develop, literature changes the way we think, work, and act.

When we can think more critically, we arrive at different conclusions. When we open our minds and empathize with others, we better accept and tolerate differences. When we can articulate and communicate effectively, we work better together to achieve and succeed.

Whether English literature or Russian literature or French literature, literature is the key to understanding ourselves and society.

Literature and Outlier.org

Looking to study literature and develop your own writing skills? Outlier.org’s cutting-edge College Writing course is a great place to start. Through interviews with celebrated writers and writing secrets from instructor John Kaag, you'll learn how to use words to express yourself and communicate more effectively.

The course explores:

How to level up your love letters

What writing and magic have in common

How to write better professional emails using The Princess Bride

How to get your writing published

How to create the perfect short sentence

Outlier courses are 100% online, so you can learn at your own pace from the comfort of your own home. At $149 per credit, you’ll save 50% compared to other college courses, all while earning transferable credits from the top-ranked University of Pittsburgh. If you decide to continue your education in literature, you can take the credit with you to the degree program of your choice.

It’s no doubt studying literature will give you a well-rounded education. It is through literature that societies have grown and developed—inspiring change throughout the world. Choosing to study literature will not only give you a glimpse into the past but help you articulate the present and inspire change in the future. By studying literature you will have the power to connect with others and truly touch their hearts and minds.

About the Author

Bob Patterson is a former Director of Admissions at Stanford University, UNC Chapel Hill, and UC Berkeley; Daisy Hill is the co-author of Uni in the USA…and beyond published by the Good Schools Guide 2019. Together, they have established MyGuidED, a new educational tool for students looking to apply to university (launching 2023).

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School refusal: mapping the literature by bibliometric analysis.

Sümeyye Ula

  • 1 Department of Psychological Counseling and Guidance, Atatürk University, Erzurum, Türkiye
  • 2 Department of Developmental Psychology and Didactics, Alicante University, Alicante, Spain

School refusal is considered a risk factor for academic, social, and personal situations, such as school dropouts. Studies have been carried out on school refusal for almost 50 years. However, general research trends have not been mapped yet. This study summarizes the bibliometric analysis of scientific collaborations and prevalence across locations by country and institution, leading researchers, journals, and trends (keywords) in school refusal research. The United States, Japan, Spain, and England are the countries that stand out in terms of school refusal. It can be said that the Journal of American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Cognitive and Behavioral Practice, and Frontiers in Psychology are important journals that publish on school refusal. Researchers named Christopher A. Kearney, Carolina Gonzálvez, Jose Manuel Garcia-Fernandez, David A. Heyne, and Brigit M. Van Widenfelt have been found to have more intensive studies and collaborations on school refusal. The authors keywords common use for school refusal; are truancy, school absenteeism, adolescence, school attendance, school phobia, autism spectrum disorder, and bullying. The findings show that school refusal is a current research area, and scientific collaborations continue to be established. The findings reveal all the details of the school refusal research.

1 Introduction

The right to education is widely recognized in various legislative areas at the international, national, regional, and local levels. However, the rate of students who, by their own decision or by external factors, do not attend school regularly is worrying. Because of this, it is a challenge for educational systems and political actions to prevent and eradicate school absenteeism and school dropout.

School refusal behaviors have always occurred, but there has been an increased amount of research on this issue over the last few decades of the twentieth century ( Inglés et al., 2015 ; García-Fernández et al., 2016 ; Elliot and Place, 2019 ). Such a long historical focus is partially because School Attendance Problems (SAPs) are related to long- and short-term negative consequences. School absenteeism affects students’ performance in the short term but the social, economic, and health domains in the long term ( Ansari et al., 2020 ).

According to a recent theoretical review, Kearney and Gonzálvez (2022) reformulate the way of understanding and addressing school attendance and related issues claiming the need to forget old-fashioned historical methods and make use of more inclusive postmodern approaches. Traditionally, SAPs were defined as those students physically absent in a specific school building on a specific day ( Gentle-Genitty et al., 2020 ). However, according to the postmodern approach, SAPs should be redefined considering wider and more flexible referrals of this issue, as well as a continuum of SAPs regarding the level of severity ( Kearney and Gonzálvez, 2022 ).

Along the same lines, research on SAPs requires going beyond research from individual concerns and concentration on particular contexts ( Kearney, 2021 ), to foster the creation of collaborations and shared alliances between professionals of different fields and different cultures. Nowadays, studies examining the SAPs are carried out in many fields (child development, social work, criminal and juvenile justice, education, psychiatry, psychology, sociology, school counseling, among others) creating a rich and comprehensive knowledge over the past century on SAPs ( Elliot and Place, 2019 ).

1.1 Globalization of science on school attendance problems

Science is increasingly global. The advancement of international projects, global co-authorship networks, international academic conferences, global talent mobility networks and collaboration networks have promoted the globalization of science ( Gui et al., 2019 ). To illustrate this point, in the field of SAPs the International Network for School Attendance (INSA) have served to promote the study of SAPs worldwide, fostering, in turn, collaboration networks between countries around the world.

In view of the large number of articles published annually on SAPs, theoretical reviews, bibliometric studies, and meta-analysis are useful to report greater knowledge about the impact and visibility of scientific production ( Gubbels et al., 2019 ; Eklund et al., 2022 ). Gradually more studies are carried out internationally on SAPs. Nevertheless, the number of studies on the globalization of science from the aspect of international scientific collaboration is limited.

1.2 The present study

The last five decades of research into school attendance and its problems have produced an extensive body of knowledge, as evidenced by simple bibliometric analysis and theoretical reviews ( Elliot and Place, 2019 ). Despite the body of knowledge that has been built up, it is difficult to find exercises of multifaceted bibliometric studies that establish co-citation and bibliographic coupling networks of studies, journals, and researchers. Considering that previous studies warn of an increase in the number of studies over time, as well as a greater representation of countries where the study of school attendance and related issues is a recurring theme, it is time to analyze bibliometric networks on SAPs. Moving from simple scientific production indicators to visualizing bibliometric networks is requested.

Making use of the bibliographical data obtained from the WoS database, the present study employs network visualization analysis to examine the structure, dynamics, and determinants of international scientific collaboration networks on school refusal for the years between 1970 and the present. This bibliometric review will focus on school refusal, one condition under the umbrella term of SAPs, which refers to any problematic absence from school for explained or unexplained reasons ( Heyne et al., 2019 ). The present study aims to determine scientific collaborations on school refusal, analyze the frequency of school refusal studies across locations by countries and organizations, identify leading researchers, and report trends in school refusal studies by making use of the bibliometric analysis with VOSviewer program.

2 Materials and methods

In this study, a bibliometric analysis was carried out aiming to determine the current trends of studies on school refusal and scientific collaborations on this subject.

2.1 Data sources and data collection

In the present study, data sources were reviewed first. In this context, a search was conducted with the keyword of “school refusal” in the Web of Science (WoS) database. The reason for using the WoS database in this study is that, as a result of the comparison of WoS and other databases, the Wos database has many search options, full recode access to the publications (title, author, sources, abstract, author keywords, cited references, etc.), the existence of refined and analysis options, h-index, and the presence of journals with high impact factors, etc., are evaluated to be more prestigious ( Joshi, 2016 ). The review process was completed on 24.12.2023. All years, languages, document types and indexes were included during the search. The keyword was searched in the topic. In this context, 622 publications were reached (search link: https://www.webofscience.com/wos/woscc/summary/5e74cdc9-ee5a-41c2-bbe5-db0c979368fd-bfb2b6ca/relevance/1 ).

2.2 Data analysis

Data examined in this study was obtained from WoS and then analyzed bibliometrically. Although there is a wide variety of software for bibliometric analysis, VosViewer software is recommended because it allows the highest number of and type analyses in the literature ( Van Eck et al., 2008 ). Therefore, within the scope of this study, a co-occurrence network for keywords, and a bibliographic coupling network for authors, organizations, journals (sources), and countries were visualized using Vosviewer.

3.1 Annual distribution of research

The findings obtained as a result of the search made on the WoS in order to identify the annual distribution of studies in the field of school refusal (SR) are presented in Figure 1 .


Figure 1 . The annual distribution of research.

According to the data obtained from the WoS, the first study on school refusal was in 1970. Until 1995, the number of publications varied between 1 and 5 (except in 1979). While the publication rate until 1995 was 12%, it reached 31% between 1996 and 2011. In 2012 and 2023, the publication rate was found to be 57%. As a result, school refusal has been handled more intensively by researchers, especially, in the last 12 years.

3.2 Scientific cooperation between countries

In the analysis conducted to determine scientific cooperation between countries on SR,

• The type of analysis: co-authorship,

• A unit of analysis: countries,

• Counting method: full counting method,

• The minimum number of documents of a country: 1,

• The minimum number of citations of a country: 1.

were determined. In the mapping process, the document was used as the weighting criterion of the images. With the limitations made, 27 scientific collaborations from 49 countries were visualized and presented in Figures 2 , 3 .


Figure 2 . The visualization of cross-country networks on SR.


Figure 3 . The visualization of cross-country overlay on SR.

According to Figures 2 , 3 , New Zealand (l:1, tls:3, doc:4), China (l:1, tls:1, doc:3), Turkey (l:1, tls:1, d:8), United States (l:19, tls:55, d:188), Venezuela (l:1, tls:1, doc:1) countries are in the first cluster; Belgium (l:3, tls:3, doc:4), Denmark (l:3, tls:3, doc:3), France (l:5, tls:7, doc:30), Japan (l:4, tls:6, doc:76) countries are in the second cluster; Finland (l:3, tls:4, doc:2), Germany (l:2, tls:4, doc:31), Norway (l:6, tls:8, doc:17), Sweden (l: 6, tls:10, doc:8) are in the third cluster; England (l:7, tls:19, doc:53), Ireland (l:1, tls:1, doc:3), Italy (l:2, tls:2, doc:11) are in the fourth cluster; Chile (l:3, tls:6, doc:4), Ecuador (l:3, tls:5, doc:3), Spain (l:4, tls:14, doc:46) are in the fifth cluster; Australia (l:5, tls:34, doc:53), India (l:1, tls:1, doc:14) are in the sixth cluster; Canada (l:3, tls:4, doc:11) and Philippines (l:1, tls:1, doc:1) are in the seventh cluster; Malaysia (l:1, tls:1, doc:3), Netherlands (l:12, tls:30, doc:30) are in the eighth cluster; Nigeria (l:2, tls:2, doc:2) and South Africa (l:2, tls:2, doc:2) are in the nineth cluster.

As seen in Figure 2 , it can be stated that the United States, Japan, Spain, Australia, and England are the countries that stand out from the aspect of school refusal. Examining Figure 3 , it can be said that Norway, Netherlands, Belgium, Turkey, Chile, Italy, India, China, and Spain tend to form up-to-date scientific collaborations.

3.3 Scientific cooperation between organizations

In the analysis examining the relationship patterns of studies on school refusal according to organizations,

• Type of analysis: co-authorship,

• The unit of analysis: organizations,

• The min. Number of document of an organization: 2,

• The min. Number of citations of an organization: 10.

was determined as. In the mapping process, citations were used as the weighting criterion of the images. With the limitations made, 80 scientific collaborations from 650 organizations were visualized and presented in Figures 4 , 5 .


Figure 4 . The visualization of cross-organizational networks on SR.


Figure 5 . The visualization of cross-organizational overlay on SR.

According to Figure 4 , in all these organizations, University of Alicante, University Nevada, Virginia Polytech Institute and State University, Monash University, University Minnesota, Florida International University, Leiden University, University of Pennsylvania, Miguel Hernandez University of Elche Spain, Temple University, New York University, University Utrecht, University Stavanger, John Hopkins University organizations were found to be at the forefront of SR. Also, according to Figure 5 , University of Alicante, Central University of Ecuador, University Illinois, University Bristol, Leiden University, University College London, Monash University, French Institute of Health and Medical Research Institute, Paris Saclay University, Yale University, and University Paris has come to the fore in recent years at the point of establishing scientific collaborations. In addition, citations to research related to SR are presented in Table 1 by organizations.


Table 1 . Citation numbers of organization.

3.4 Journals publishing SR studies

In the analysis conducted to determine the journals in which studies on school refusal were published,

• The type of analysis: bibliographic coupling,

• The unit of analysis: sources,

• The min. Number of documents of a source:5,

• The min. Number of citations of a source:10.

were limited. Accordingly, 23 of the 310 sources identified as related are mapped as follows. In the mapping process, the number of documents was taken as the scale weight criterion and presented in Figures 6 , 7 .


Figure 6 . Visualization of the network of journals publishing SR studies.


Figure 7 . Visualization of the overlay of journals publishing SR studies.

Examining Figures 6 , 7 , it can be stated that the journals publishing SR studies are mapped in 3 clusters and 21 items. In this context, the items in the first cluster include Archives de Pediatrie (doc:5), Behavior Change (doc:7), British Medical Journal (doc:7), Clinical Psychology Review (doc:5), Journal of Anxiety Disorders (doc:9), Journal of American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (doc:30), Praxis der Kinder-Psychologie und Kinder-Psychiatrie (doc:9), Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience (doc:8), Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry (doc:5), Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment (doc:5), Psychology in the Schools (doc:10). Items in the second cluster are Child Psychiatry and Human Development (doc:5), Cognitive and Behavioral Practice (doc:17), Educational Psychology in Practice (doc:8), Emotional and Behavioral Difficulties (doc:5), European Journal of Education and Psychology (doc:7), Frontiers in Psychiatry (doc:9), Frontiers in Psychology (doc:15), Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders (doc:8), Pediatric International (doc: 6), Zeitschrift fur Kinder und Jugend Psychiatrie und Psychotherapie (doc:9). Finally, Journal of Child and Adolescent Subtance Abuse (doc:7), Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorder (doc: 6) are the journal in the third cluster.

According to Figure 6 , it can be said that the Journal of American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Cognitive and Behavioral Practice, and Frontiers in Psychology are important journals that publish on SR. According to Figure 7 , it can be evaluated that Frontiers in Psychology, Frontiers in Psychiatry, Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, Zeitschrift fur Kinder und Jugend Psychiatrie und Psychotherapie, and European Journal of Education and Psychology are journals that make up-to-date publications on SR.

3.5 Scientific cooperation between researchers

In order to determine the relationship patterns of the researchers included in this study on SR,

• The unit of analysis: authors,

• The counting method: full counting,

• The min. Number of documents of an author: 1,

• The min. Number of citations of an Author: 5.

were limited. A total of 1,548 authors were analyzed depending on the limitations made by 1,150 authors, and the networks of 100 researchers were shown as visualization weight documents in Figures 8 , 9 , with the command to show the networks of relations with each other during visualization.


Figure 8 . Visualization of SR researchers’ collaboration via networks.


Figure 9 . Visualization of SR researchers’ collaboration via overlay.

When Figure 8 , which shows the relationships between researchers, is examined, it can be said that researchers named Christopher A. Kearney, Carolina Gonzalvez, Jose Manuel Garcia-Fernandez, David A. Heyne, Brigit M. Van Widenfelt, Angela Diaz-Herrero, Aitana Fernandez-Sogorb, Ricardo Sanmartin, Maria Vicent, Candido J. Ingles, and Bruce J. Tonge are prominent researchers in school refusal studies. According to Figure 9 , it can be said that researchers named Martin Bergstrom, Vicki Bitsika, Katarina Alanko, Yoko Dutton, Vasiliki Totsika, Glenn Melvin, Richard P. Hastings, Aitana Fernandez-Sogorb, Miriam Martin, Maria Jose Quiles, Kylie Gray, Marie B. H. Yap, Meena Chockalingam, Kayan Skinner, Antonio M. Perez-Sanchez, and Mariola Gimenez-Miralles are open to scientific collaborations. In addition, the number of links, total link strengths, and documents reached as a result of the analysis of scientific collaborations between researchers is presented in Table 2 for all researchers.


Table 2 . Number of links, total link strength, and document of researchers.

3.6 Keywords of SR research

In order to create a co-occurrence map according to the author keywords of the studies on SR,

• The type of analysis: co-occurrence,

• The unit of analysis: author keywords,

• Counting method: full counting,

• The min. Number of occurrence of keywords: 3.

was determined. A total of 1,224 keywords were analyzed depending on the limitations and the networks of 102 keywords were shown in Figures 10 , 11 . Additionally, repetitive keywords (for example, adolescent, adolescents, adolescence) were used in a single cluster.


Figure 10 . Visualizing the co-occurrence network of SR research keywords.


Figure 11 . Visualizing the co-occurrence overlay of SR research keywords.

When the co-occurrence images of the keywords used in the studies on SR are examined ( Figures 10 , 11 ), the keywords in the 1st cluster; academic achievement (occurrences: 3), adhd (occurrences: 4), anxiety disorder (occurrences: 15), assessment (occurrences: 22), autism spectrum disorder (occurrences: 20), child (occurrences: 35), childhood (occurrences: 5), emotion regulation (occurrences: 3), hyperactivity disorder (occurrences: 3), Japan (occurrences: 3), parenting (occurrences: 3), personality (occurrences: 6), psychopathology (occurrences: 5), qualitative research (occurrences: 5), quality of life (occurrences: 4), review (occurrences: 3), self-efficacy (occurrences: 5), self-esteem (occurrences: 4), social (occurrences: 3), Spain (occurrences: 3), support (occurrences: 4), treatment (occurrences: 13), validity (occurrences: 5) was found. (2) Cluster academic self-attributions (occurrences: 3), adolescence (occurrences: 33), aggression (occurrences: 3), childhood anxiety (occurrences: 3), cluster analysis (occurrences: 7), factorial invariance (occurrences: 5), latent class analysis (occurrences: 6), latent profile analysis (occurrences: 11), parents (occurrences: 3), primary education (occurrences: 5), school absence (occurrences: 4), school anxiety (occurrences: 9), school refusal behavior (occurrences: 41), separation anxiety (occurrences: 15), social anxiety (occurrences: 7), and social functioning (occurrences: 5) keywords are included. (3) Cluster adolescents (occurrences: 43), cognitive behavioral therapy (occurrences: 9), cognitive therapy (occurrences: 3), comorbidity (occurrences: 4), follow-up (occurrences: 3), hikikomori (occurrences: 4), phobic disorder (occurrences: 3), school refusal (occurrences: 219), and social withdrawal (occurrences: 14) keywords has taken place. 4. cluster school absenteeism (occurrences: 18), bullying (occurrences: 12), child and adolescent psychiatry (occurrences: 3), child psychiatry (occurrences: 3), delinquency (occurrences: 3), education (occurrences: 4), mental health (occurrences: 13), qualitative (occurrences: 3), risk factors (occurrences: 3), school (occurrences: 5), school health (occurrences: 4), stress (occurrences: 3), substance use (occurrences: 5), and young people (occurrences: 3) were included. (5) Cluster includes discrimination (occurrences: 3), intellectual disability (occurrences: 4), minorities (occurrences: 3), multi-tiered system of supports (4), response to intervention (occurrences: 3), school absenteeism (occurrences: 26), school attendance (occurrences: 22), school exclusion (occurrences: 5), school non-attendance (occurrences: 4), and truancy (occurrences: 48) keywords. (6) Cluster; attention deficit (occurrences: 3), functional assessment (occurrences: 6), psychometric properties (occurrences: 3), school attendance problem (occurrences: 15), school phobia (occurrences: 16), school refusal assessment scale/revised form (occurrences: 7) keywords are included. (7) The cluster contains keywords epidemiology (occurrences: 4), intervention (occurrences: 10), phobias (occurrences: 5), and prevention (occurrences: 7). Cluster 8 includes anxiety (occurrences: 59), depression (occurrences: 19), and family (occurrences: 4), while youth (occurrences: 5), delayed sleep phase syndrome (occurrences: 3), and school avoidance (occurrences: 9) are included in Cluster 9 and later cluster.

Examining Figure 10 , one of the author keywords on SR, truancy, school absenteeism, adolescence, school phobia, autism spectrum disorder, treatment, separation anxiety, depression, intervention, mental health, latent profile analysis, school attendance problem, assessment, functional assessment, anxiety, psychopathology, school avoidance, social withdrawal, social functioning, and cognitive behavior therapy keywords become prominent. Examining Figure 11 , it can be said that the keywords of school withdrawal, stress, school exclusion, multi-tiered system of support, discrimination, autism spectrum disorder, social withdrawal, stress, parents, functional assessment, academic self-attributions, self-esteem, attention deficit, intellectual disability, hyperactivity disorder, emotional regulation, social functioning, academic achievement, systematic review, and qualitative research are currently keywords compared to others.

4 Discussion

The present study aims to determine research trends and scientific collaborations on school refusal by using bibliometric data obtained from the WoS database. Depending on this purpose, the results obtained from the analysis on publication year of SR publications, countries, organizations, researchers, journals of publications, and key concepts are presented in the result section. As a result of the analysis, school refusal publications tend to increase over the years, and the United States was positioned as a central node in the studies on school refusal ( Kearney and Silverman, 1990 ; Kearney, 1993 ; Fremont, 2003 ; Kearney and Albano, 2004 ; Kearney, 2006 ; Hilt, 2014 ; Ye et al., 2017 ; Londono Tobon et al., 2018 ; Li et al., 2021 ; McClemont et al., 2021 ). Historically, Japan ( Fukuda and Hozumi, 1987 ; Hoshino et al., 1987 ), Australia ( King and Ollendick, 1989 ; Pritchard et al., 1998 ; Tonge, 1998 ), Canada ( Rubenstein and Hastings, 1980 ; Atkinson et al., 1989 ), New Zealand ( Stein et al., 2001 ), England ( Berg, 1985 ; Foreman et al., 1997 ; Wray and Thomas, 2013 ; Katz et al., 2016 ), it seems that there are studies on school refusal in their countries. The review study conducted by Kearney (2008) stated that similar studies on school attendance problems and school refusal were undertaken primarily in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia. However, when the current studies on school refusal are examined, Spain ( Inglés et al., 2015 ; García-Fernández et al., 2016 ; Gonzálvez et al., 2016 ; Sanmartín et al., 2018 ; Gonzálvez et al., 2020 ), Norway ( Havik et al., 2014 ; Munkhaugen et al., 2019 ; Havik and Ingul, 2021 ; Høiseth et al., 2021 ), Finland ( Strömbeck et al., 2021 ), Belgium, ( Al-Husni Al-Keilani and Delvenne, 2021 ), and Turkey ( Bahali et al., 2009 ; Oner et al., 2014 ; Secer, 2014 ; Seçer and Ulaş, 2020 ) countries seem to be gaining momentum. As expected, this situation is similar in terms of the universities where school refusal studies are carried out, and University of Alicante, Central University of Ecuador, University Illinois, University Bristol, Leiden University, and University College London, Monash University, and University Paris universities are at the forefront of current studies.

As a result of the analysis of the keywords used in studies on school refusal, it is clear that the keywords that came to the fore in the general pattern include school refusal, truancy, school absenteeism, adolescence, school attendance, school phobia, autism spectrum disorder, bullying, treatment, school anxiety, separation anxiety, depression, intervention, mental health, latent profile analysis, school attendance problem, assessment, functional assessment, anxiety, psychopathology, self-efficacy, school avoidance, social withdrawal, social functioning, and cognitive behavior therapy; however, in the current pattern, it was observed that the keywords of school withdrawal, stress, school exclusion, autism spectrum disorder, hyperactivity disorder, emotional regulation, social functioning, academic achievement, systematic review, and qualitative research came to the forefront. Among the oldest topics studied chronologically in WoS, school refusal includes depression, childhood anxiety, and phobic disorders. In this context, Ingul et al. (2019) emphasized in a previous study that depression, anxiety, and somatic symptoms are important warning signals for school refusal. Similarly, Gonzálvez et al. (2018) discussed the relationship between school refusal and depression, anxiety, and stress. The results revealed a relationship between the variables that pointed to negative affectation and school refusal. At this point, the keywords of emotion regulation, and the current concept of school refusal in WoS, drew attention. Indeed, emotion regulation difficulties are considered an individual risk factor for school refusal ( Filippello et al., 2018 ). In line with all these evaluations, Heyne (2022) suggested that emotion regulation skills should be included in the intervention of school refusal. In a study conducted by Carpentieri et al. (2022) , adolescents seeking psychological help were grouped as those with school refusal and those without school refusal. In the grouping, anxiety, and depression levels were higher than those in the group without school refusal, and emotion regulation and social functioning levels were reported to be lower. At this point, it is seen that one of the keywords that come to the forefront of school refusal research is social functioning, which has been evaluated to have a protective function against school refusal ( Gonzálvez et al., 2019 ; Seçer and Ulaş, 2020 ). In a study of children with autism, the sample structure was similar to that of the group with and without school refusal, and it was found that they were at a lower level in terms of social behaviors (initiating any activity, reacting, etc.) and had a more depressive structure ( Munkhaugen et al., 2019 ). In another study, children with typical development and school refusal were examined comparatively, and children with an autism diagnosis and school refusal behavior were examined comparatively. It was stated that school refusal behaviors appeared earlier in children with autism. Accordingly, it is recommended that evaluations of children with autism should be made at an early stage ( Ochi et al., 2020 ).

Children with attention deficit and hyperactive disorder in the high-risk group for school refusal in the literature ( McClemont et al., 2021 ; Granieri et al., 2022 ) were found to be the current keyword in this study. It was reported in a study carried out by Dan and Benovich (2022) that male adolescents with ADHD had low school attendance rates and intense school refusal behaviors. It was stated that their negative attitudes towards school and anxiety levels were higher than their peers with typical development. It was found that adolescents with ADHD should progress based on anxiety in the process of working with school refusal behaviors.

5 Conclusion

As a result of the bibliometric analysis of the data obtained from the WoS database, it was seen that the issue of SR emerged in the 1970s and had a stable publication potential until 1995, and in 2012–2023, 57% of the studies carried out so far were done. Accordingly, it can be said that the issue of SR attracts the attention of researchers as a current research area. The studies carried out were largely in the United States, Japan, Spain, England, Norway, Finland, Belgium, Turkey, Malaysia, Spain, and University Nevada, Virginia Polytech Institute, State University, Monash University, University Minnesota, Florida International University, University of Alicante, Leiden University, University of Pennsylvania, Miguel Hernandez University of Elce Spain, Temple University, New York University, University Hawaii Manoa, University Utrecht, University Stavanger, University of California Los Angeles, John Hopkins University, University of Alicante, Central University of Ecuador, University Illinois, University Bristol, Leiden University, University College London, Monash University, and University Paris. The journals in which the most published denial research was found were the Journal of American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Cognitive and Behavioral Practice, Frontiers in Psychiatry, Frontiers in Psychology, Zeitschrift fur Kinder und Jugend Psychiatrie und Psychotherapie, and the European Journal of Education and Psychology. Prominent researchers in the field of school refusal were Christopher A. Kearney, Carolina Gonzalvez, Jose Manuel Garcia-Fernandez, David A. Heyne, Bruce J. Tonge, Martin Bergstrom, Robert Palmer, Vicki Bitsika, Katarina Alanko, Yoko Dutton, and Mariola Gimenez-Miralles. As a result of the analysis was conducted to determine the keywords of school refusal, truancy, school absenteeism, adolescence, school attendance, school phobia, autism spectrum disorder, bullying, treatment, school anxiety, separation anxiety, depression, intervention, mental health, latent profile analysis, school attendance problem, assessment, functional assessment, anxiety, psychopathology, self-efficacy, school avoidance, social withdrawal, social functioning, and cognitive behavior therapy, school withdrawal, stress, school exclusion, autism spectrum disorder, hyperactivity disorder, emotional regulation, social functioning, academic achievement, systematic review, and qualitative research.

6 Limitation

A limitation in this study is that the keywords were searched only in the topic. Obtaining the data only from WoS database is another limitation because it might not offer access to some of the scientific literature. The results of bibliometric analyses may differ in terms of specific factors such as search engine, keywords, differences in listing the author names on the article, and the use of “or” or “and” together. Moreover, the search location of the keywords in the study (e.g., the topic was used in the present study), year of publication, language, etc. will also affect the bibliometric data available. Since VOSviewer program was used in the analyses, the method used for examining the repetition of items can be considered another limitation. There might be errors in the names of universities and researchers, as well as keywords. On the other hand, the strengths of this bibliometric analysis are the visualization of data such as prominent keywords, countries, universities, researchers, and journals which exhibit general patterns associated with the historical changes in SR.

The results achieved in this study are very important in terms of possible scientific collaborations, especially for researchers, by providing a picture of the research centers/universities and researchers that come to the fore regarding SR. For educators and experts in the field of psychology, examining the variables related to school refusal and variables that can be grouped such as risk factors and reasons for school refusal are important for the process of preparing intervention and psychoeducational content for school refusal.

Data availability statement

The raw data supporting the conclusions of this article will be made available by the authors, without undue reservation.

Author contributions

SU: Conceptualization, Data curation, Formal analysis, Investigation, Methodology, Software, Validation, Visualization, Writing – original draft, Writing – review & editing. CG: Conceptualization, Funding acquisition, Investigation, Project administration, Supervision, Writing – original draft, Writing – review & editing. İS: Conceptualization, Investigation, Project administration, Resources, Supervision, Writing – original draft, Writing – review & editing.

The author(s) declare financial support was received for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article. This research is supported under the Erasmus Project (2022-1-ES01-KA220-SCH-000088733).

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

Publisher’s note

All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers. Any product that may be evaluated in this article, or claim that may be made by its manufacturer, is not guaranteed or endorsed by the publisher.

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Keywords: school attendance problem, school refusal, bibliometric analysis, research trends, scientific collaboration

Citation: Ulaş S, Gonzálvez C and Seçer & (2024) School refusal: mapping the literature by bibliometric analysis. Front. Psychol . 15:1265781. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2024.1265781

Received: 23 July 2023; Accepted: 22 January 2024; Published: 12 February 2024.

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Copyright © 2024 Ulaş, Gonzálvez and Seçer. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY) . The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Sümeyye Ulaş, [email protected]

Disclaimer: All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers. Any product that may be evaluated in this article or claim that may be made by its manufacturer is not guaranteed or endorsed by the publisher.

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AMEND: Literature Makes the World Go Round

Staff Columnist

After graduating seven years ago, I’ve learned that making money in America revolves around knowing finance, data and science. Making money means understanding economics and ways to do business, and working in geopolitics. Writers and people who study good books rarely make a lot of money. But their literature is what makes the world go round. 

Anyone who passes through Yale’s Ivy gates should understand the different kinds of intellects on the market. As someone who is mildly intelligent, I like to study the art of intelligence myself. 

First, there are mathematicians. Math fanatics look at sheets of paper and computers and chalk boards and write numbers down. They mull over equations and make new ones if they excel at their craft. They marvel at the way a line slopes in the xy-coordinate plane or in planes more multidimensional than that. Top-tier mathematicians compete to solve puzzles and problems with no answer in sight. But when one lucky person finds the answer to that puzzle — maybe at Princeton, or maybe at Brown — they win a Nobel prize. Despite all of their brilliance, mathematicians rarely have to look at the world around them to be good at their craft. Occasionally, they will witness mathematical problems in nature around them — in the curvature of a seashell, for instance, or in the speed of light. But for the most part, a prize-winning mathematician can be the best in the world without having to worry about human suffering. They don’t have to care about culture. 

Let’s move on to scientists. Some scientists work to cure society’s ills through groundbreaking cancer drugs and treatments to rare diseases. But most of a scientist’s time is dedicated to being good with microscopes, knowing a few coding languages and excelling in laboratory settings. The best scientists on the market pose questions about the world around them; they formulate new hypotheses and try to evaluate these with experiments. Top scientists are curious and have superior spatial reasoning skills: they seek to answer their curiosity with action in hospitals and labs and research centers. But at the end of the day, scientists don’t incorporate systemic discrimination, heartbreak or politics into their work. 

Let’s look at literature and writers. A literary intellect is different from all other intellects. Scientists code and understand how particles collide with each other, and mathematicians look at sheets of variables. But writers need to observe the world around them and communicate the suffering they see onto paper. The finest writing — the kind of lines that get passed down from generation to generation — communicates suffering. Only bad writing talks about rainbows and butterflies and Valentine’s Day chocolates and rose petals. Many Americans don’t want to read heavy topics. They want “Fifty Shades of Grey” on the beach. And I don’t blame them. 

The greatest novels are studded with tales of fine tuned suffering, both in America and beyond. One of my favorite books of all time, “Middlesex,” written by Jeffrey Eugenides, explored the life of an intersex girl in Detroit, long before writing about trans topics was trendy. I read Middlesex when I was 13, before I changed genders. It induced such a visceral reaction in my body that it made my stomach sick. I was fearful of what was to come. But because Eugenides did such a stellar job of conveying the nuances of intersex life, he won a Pulitzer. Many in the trans community don’t think a cisgender white male author should’ve garnered a prize for writing about this topic. I disagree, but that’s a story for another day. 

Novelists need to hone a very fine grasp on human suffering. An award-winning novelist looks at the life around them and plucks one issue out of thin air to write about. Eugenides wrote about gender bending. Toni Morrison wrote about racism and Black community. Kafka wrote about people who think they are monsters but are really not. Dostoevsky wrote about what it was like to be utterly deranged. You can argue — and this is a tepid argument at best — that J.K. Rowling taught children good versus evil, only until she became, with all the Hogwartsian irony in the world, a second reincarnation of Voldemort after kicking trans women in the dirt. 

While top writers need to care about the pain ebbing through their daily surroundings, they also must carry a special intimacy with the English language that often cannot be taught in the classroom. The question of how quality writing can be instilled in students is one I mull over on a weekly basis. In one interview, Salman Rushdie — winner of a Booker Prize and author of the utterly glorious “Satanic Verses” — reiterated the thought that English professors cannot, despite their efforts, induce a unique affinity for words in their students. Professors can teach other things: themes, dialogue and to some extent, style. But talent must abound as well. And talent, fortunately or unfortunately, comes from within. 

This is why the literary intellect is so important and so unique. Don’t get me wrong. All fields at Yale should be treasured. But society should always cherish literary intelligence. We are the tellers of your own suffering, after all. 

ISAAC AMEND graduated in 2017 from Timothy Dwight College. He is a transgender man and was featured in National Geographic’s “Gender Revolution” documentary. In his free time, he is a columnist for the Washington Blade. He also serves on the board of the LGBT Democrats of Virginia. Contact him at [email protected]

Academic Entrepreneurship Ecosystems: Systematic Literature Review and Future Research Directions

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  • Published: 16 February 2024

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  • Maria Patrocínia Correia 1 , 2 ,
  • Carla Susana Marques   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0003-1557-1319 2 ,
  • Rui Silva 2 &
  • Veland Ramadani 3  

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Research on the entrepreneurship ecosystem, based on different data and scales, limits the acceptance of a single definition. This conceptual limitation and the still recent research and higher education institutions have come to be seen as ecosystems associated with entrepreneurship. The aim of this study is to contribute to the field of knowledge, identify current and emerging thematic areas and trends and reveal the scientific roots of research on entrepreneurial ecosystems and their relationship with higher education institutions. A bibliometric analysis was developed to analyse a final sample of 110 articles published between 2011 and 2022. In order to develop the analysis, Bibliometrix R-Tool was used and the metadata of two databases (Web of Science and Scopus) was retrieved and merged. The software creates a reference co-citation’s map, which allowed emphasize the state of the art and indicate three thematic clusters: (i) the importance of the higher education context for the entrepreneurial ecosystem, (ii) the evolution and challenges of entrepreneurship education and (iii) academic entrepreneurship ecosystems. The paper concludes by suggesting future research focused on the importance of building an integrated approach to entrepreneurial ecosystems and higher education institutions on a context regional scale.

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The new research on the “entrepreneurship ecosystem” (EE) limits the acceptance of a single definition. According to this conceptual limitation and the still recent research, higher education institutions (HEIs) have come to be seen as ecosystems associated with entrepreneurship. While several bibliometric and systematic literature reviews have advanced for a research agenda for academic entrepreneurial ecosystems (AEEs), a holistic approach that integrates theories, attributes and methods is still necessary.

The concept of EE in HEIs has emerged in the literature (Fetters et al., 2010 ). Consequently, initial studies have addressed the components of these ecosystems (Fetters et al., 2010 ; Graham, 2014 ; Meyer et al., 2020 ), and internal and external actors have been identified (e.g. Hayter, 2016 ; Hayter et al., 2018 ; Meyer et al., 2020 ). Hayter ( 2016 ) and Hayter et al. ( 2018 ) further elaborated on the research by relating the effectiveness of academic EEs to the levels of the interconnectedness of the constituent elements and their collective capacity.

Higher education institutions (HEIs) and their surroundings play a “fundamental role for contemporary societies in the field of education and knowledge generation” (Kobylinska & Lavios, 2020 : 118). For the authors, during the last decade, the university and its surroundings have become a special ecosystem. Specifically, favourable conditions are created for cooperation between various entities, namely, HEI, business incubators, technology transfer centres and funding institutions, which contribute to developing academic entrepreneurship ecosystem (AEE) (Meyer et al., 2020 ; Kobylinska & Lavios, 2020 ). The combination of EE and HEI requires further research.

The systematic literature review (SLR) developed in this article found five studies that allow us to assess what is known about this subject. Malecki ( 2018 ) reviews the literature, concepts and operationalizations of the concept of EE with a bibliometric analysis. Kansheba and Wald ( 2020 ) present a systematic review of the existing literature, develop a research agenda and analysing, only, articles that focused on EEs (conceptual, theoretical or empirical). They concluded that the concept of EEs is poorly theorised and dominated by conceptual studies, revealing existing theoretical and empirical gaps on EEs. In the third SLR found, Kobylinska and Lavios ( 2020 ) aimed to analyse the state of research on University EE and to identify research trends related to the topic. They concluded that the study of University EE is little recognized in the literature, lacking a solid methodological basis and revealed that the topic may constitute a research area of interest. In the fourth review, Guindalini et al. ( 2021 ) present an SLR with bibliometric and network analysis, with the aim of mapping AEE. In this SLR, as in the two previously mentioned, the authors conclude that this topic is at an “embryonic stage of academic research” (Guindalini et al., 2021 : 6). They also find a gap in research regarding evaluation studies that support the targeting of potential scientific discoveries in the market. With bibliometric and SLR, the study develops a holistic framework that integrates sustainability factors into the EE literature. They confirm that EE research has mostly focused on academic entrepreneurship, innovation and regional development, among others.

The originality of this research is directly linked to the chosen emerging theme. In this context, this study aims to complement and stand out from the five reviews found and understand the characteristics of an AEE and their successful development as a potential research area relevant in the future. To this end, a bibliometric analysis is proposed to answer the following research questions: (a) RQ1: Is it possible establish common attributes for AEE?; (b) RQ2: What are the opportunities and challenges that HEIs must recognize to achieve an successful EE?; (c) RQ3: What key areas require further research with regards to AEE?

In order to complement the proposed research questions, this study also responds to the subsequent objectives: to provide a comprehensive overview of the origins of the EE concept, to explore the research conducted so far in this field of study, to reveal the scientific roots of research on EEs and their relationship with the HEIs and to create knowledge for future research on AEEs.

To achieve them, the SLR followed in this article included a rigorous protocol and definition of research steps and a literature review based on scientific articles published in Web of Science (WoS) and Scopus. In addition, the 110 articles related to EEs were submitted to a bibliometric analysis with the Bibliometrix-R tool . In this quantitative bibliometric, we used the analysis of co-citations, which allowed obtaining a citation network composed of clusters.

The article is structured in seven parts. After this introductory section, the theoretical framework on the concept is presented in the second section of the paper and is organized as follows: entrepreneurial ecosystems and academic entrepreneurial ecosystems. In the third section, the methodological characteristics of the research used in the SLR, the sample and the bibliometric analysis method are presented. The results are explained in the fourth section. The thematic analysis exposing the resulting visual maps and discussing the results of the articles classified by clusters is the fifth section. In the sixth and final section, the future lines of research and conclusions are addressed presenting limitations that resulted from the review and future of research.

Theoretical Framework

Defining entrepreneurial ecosystems and academic entrepreneurship ecosystem.

The concept of entrepreneurial ecosystem is an ambiguous term, but, in fact, this concept has been increasingly explored by researchers over the years (Bischoff et al., 2018 ; Clarysse et al., 2014 ; Cohen, 2006 ; Isenberg, 2010 , 2011 ; Kansheba & Wald, 2020 ; Stam & Spigel, 2017 ; Van de Ven, 1993 ). The term entrepreneurial ecosystem (EE) is a composite of two terms.

The component of the term—entrepreneur—according to Mason and Brown ( 2014 ) is often associated with “high growth start-ups” or “economies of scale” as being a source of innovation and growth in productivity and employment. The other component of the term—ecosystem—is associated with biology and is defined as the physical environment and all possible interactions in the complex of living and non-living components (Stam, 2015 ). As in ecology, the biological perspective focuses on the rise and fall of many organizations and institutions that are mutually related and play different but complementary roles that enable their birth, growth and survival (Astley & Van de Ven, 1983 ; Freeman & Audia, 2006 ).

Cohen ( 2006 ) was the first to use the concept of EE building on the study of Neck et al. ( 2004 ). Neck et al. ( 2004 ) used qualitative analysis to identify the components present in the EE in Boulder, USA. This concept became more prominent through Daniel Isenberg, in 2010. For this author, an EE is a set of individual elements combined in a complex way. In isolation, each can generate entrepreneurship but cannot sustain it (Isenberg, 2010 , 2011 ). Mason and Brown ( 2014 : 5) more broadly defined an EE as a “set of interrelated entrepreneurial actors, entrepreneurial organizations, institutions and entrepreneurial processes that formally or informally cooperate in relating and mediate performance within the local entrepreneurial environment.” Audretsh and Belitski ( 2017 : 1031) define EE as “institutional and organisational systems as well as other systemic factors that interact and influence the identification and commercialisation of entrepreneurial opportunities.” Acs et al. ( 2014 ) defined entrepreneurial ecosystems as a dynamic, institutionally embedded interaction between entrepreneurial attitudes, capabilities and aspirations of individuals that drives the allocation of resources through the creation and operation of new projects. Stam and Spigel ( 2017 ) point out that it is the coordination that occurs between actors and interdependent factors that enables productive entrepreneurship in each territory.

As this term has captured the attention of researchers, experts and policymakers significant knowledge gaps have also emerged in terms of its conceptual meaning, theoretical foundation and application (Audretsh et al., 2019 ; Kansheba & Wald, 2020 ). According to Audretsh et al. ( 2019 ), the question remains as to what exactly an EE is and what it comprises. It also mentions that the definition of EE does not add value to academic discourses that rely on “networks”, “cluster initiatives”, “triple helix initiatives” or “public–private partnerships”. For the authors, thinking in terms of EEs may only reflect the importance of a particular topic, such as “business ecosystems”, “digital ecosystems”, “financial ecosystems” and “university ecosystems”, among others.

Combining EEs and HEIs: An Overview of Academic Entrepreneurship Ecosystems

In recent decades, some universities have oriented themselves towards a more entrepreneurial direction through the realization of the third mission as a key player in promoting national and regional economic and social development (Etzkowitz & Leydesdorff, 2000 ; Yi & Uyarra, 2018 ) resulting from the interaction of three actors belonging to different helixes—university-industry-government: triple helix model (Etzkowitz & Leydesdorff, 2000 ). Etzkowitz and Zhou ( 2017 ) point out that the thesis of the model is that the university starts to abandon a social, yet important, role of providing higher education and research and starts to assume an essential role equivalent to that of industry and government as a generator of new industries and enterprises. As a result, the entrepreneurial university has become an increasingly significant academic configuration and is considered a vital element (Etzkowitz & Zhou, 2017 ; Wang et al., 2021 ). Pita et al. ( 2021 ) agree, pointing out that universities actively contribute to the development of EEs by providing a skilled workforce and stimulating new enterprises, such as start-ups or spin-offs.

In the entrepreneurial university, knowledge-sharing processes are outlined, which requires the university to reconfigure its traditional educational programmes and approaches to create a favourable context for university entrepreneurship by supporting students in a process that moves from idea generation to idea development, business model and commercialisation (Secundo et al., 2021 ). Another challenge facing HEIs is to shift their focus from education about entrepreneurship to educating for entrepreneurship. This encompasses any programme or pedagogical process of education aimed at achieving entrepreneurial skills and attitudes (Bischoff et al., 2018 ).

Against entrepreneurial HEIs and their pedagogical competencies of entrepreneurship education, researchers highlight that the entrepreneurial university itself can form an EE (Miller & Acs, 2017 ; Wang et al., 2021 ). The EE developed with an academic campus as a context is referred to as “University-based Entrepreneurship Ecosystem” (UBEE) or “University Entrepreneurship Ecosystem” (UEE) or “Academic Entrepreneurship Ecosystem” (AEE). All these terms refer to the ecosystem developed on the university campus, which are part of a wider ecosystem. For Wang et al., ( 2021 : 2), the creation of UEEs, currently, is a “hot topic.”

Naturally, many definitions were put forward, leading to the decision to present, chronologically, a selection of definitions (Table  1 ).

An effective AEE is critical for entrepreneurial academic activities as they not only act as a catalyst for the acceleration of knowledge commercialisation but also as a platform and dynamic in maintaining the sustainable development of academic entrepreneurship (Yi & Uyarra, 2018 ). However, little literature exists on the AEE’s structure and function and particularly how the transition from the academic entrepreneurial system to an AEE occurs (Hayter, 2016 ; Yi & Uyarra, 2018 ).

Similarly, to research on EE, academics attach greater importance to the conceptualisation and elements of the UEE. Several authors identify the factors contributing to the evolution of EEUs (Fetters et al., 2010 ; Graham, 2014 ; Meyer et al., 2020 ). Fetters et al. ( 2010 ) cite seven factors contributing to the evolution of UBEEs: senior leadership, strong teaching and programmatic capacity, long-term commitment, the commitment of financial resources, the commitment to continuous innovation in programmes and curricula, adequate organizational infrastructure and the commitment to increasing critical mass and creating enterprises. Graham ( 2014 ) also identifies seven factors that underpin UEEs: institutions, culture, university leadership, university research capacity, regional or governmental support, effective institutional strategies and strong demand for entrepreneurial students.

Brush ( 2014 ) believed that entrepreneurship education is the core of the UEE. The researcher divided the internal entrepreneurial education ecosystem into three broad areas (introductory/curricular courses, extracurricular activities and research) and four dimensions (stakeholders, resources, infrastructure and culture). Sherwood ( 2018 ), in addition to the elements, identified curricular, extra-curricular components, Technology Transfer Offices (TTO), resources and informal and community engagement. For Wang et al. ( 2021 ), diversified extracurricular activities have played an important role in stimulating students’ interest in entrepreneurship by providing them with a large number of resources. For the authors, student entrepreneurs also tend to get the guidance and resources they need through these activities.

For Bischoff et al. ( 2018 ), although the concrete strengths and conceptualization of UBEEs generally vary between universities, a number of common characteristics can be identified. Secundo et al. ( 2021 ) mention that UBEE facilitates innovation and entrepreneurial opportunities thanks to the knowledge-sharing processes between the various actors. Within a UBEE, for the author, each actor needs to be connected to the other members through a constant flow of knowledge from information that enables the overflow of entrepreneurial knowledge. The author points out that universities may assume different roles according to the size and composition of the entrepreneurial ecosystem, interacting through different channels.

In accordance with the review carried out, the other authors initiate the development of methods to evaluate an AEE. Table 2 shows three of the conceptual models highlighted in the literature review and published chronologically in the last 5 years.

Within this context, further research work on evaluations of AEE is needed. The findings draw attention to considerations as “unique entrepreneurial architecture” (Prokop & Thompson, 2022 : 17). The Prokop and Thompson ( 2022 : 181) study include 81 UEE and, according to the author, “it is in no way reflective of all types of sub-ecosystems, or broader ecosystems.” The study of university and broader EEs is a critical feature to recognize and involve in future studies. This study aims to contribute to this challenge.


To produce a comprehensive review article, Hulland ( 2020 ) refers that authors should carry out their studies in a systematic way. A systematic review needs the definition of clear questions, criteria and conclusions that provide new information based on the examined content. According to Aria and Cuccurullo ( 2017 ), this means that the phases adopted in the review can be replicated in all procedures and there should be clarity in all of them. The authors state that the working model of an SLR is based on five stages: study design, data collection, data analysis, data visualization and interpretation.

Ferreira et al. ( 2019 ) mention that one of the most suitable methods for analysing past research works is bibliometric analysis. According to Aria and Cuccurullo ( 2017 ) and Thelwall ( 2008 ), there are relevant points when using bibliometric. For Aria and Cuccurullo ( 2017 ), there are three types of research questions that can be answered using bibliometrics: identify the knowledge base of a topic or field of research, examine the conceptual structure of a topic or field of research and produce a network structure based on a particular scientific community. The relevance for Thelwall ( 2008 ) concerns the types of procedures in bibliometric analysis. The author identified two types of procedures, evaluation bibliometric and relational bibliometric. The first evaluates the productivity and impact of researchers, research centres and countries. The second type examines the similarity and relationship between publications, authors and keywords using co-word, co-authorship and co-citation analyses.

The article will use the suggestions of both authors in bibliometric analysis. It will respond to the three types of questions posed by Aria and Cuccurullo ( 2017 ) and uses both types of procedures, evaluation bibliometric and relational bibliometric. In evaluation bibliometric, mappings, qualitative analyses and baseline indicators are carried out. In relational bibliometrics will analyse co-citations and the respective clusters.

Data Collection and Eligibility Criteria

In additional search, the research papers were determined through the comprehensive advanced search in two databases including Scopus and Web of Science. These choices were justified for two reasons: they are two multidisciplinary databases that include all indexed journals with the highest number of citations in their respective areas of scientific specialization (Huang et al., 2020 ; Pranckuté, 2021 ). They also provide a citation index, generating information about each publication in documents that cite them as well as cited.

Table 3 elucidates the stages that followed in this study.

The keywords come from the research question and was defined the following search query: “entrepreneur* ecosystem*” (in title) AND “universit*” OR “polytechnic*” OR “higher education institution*” (in topic). All the articles from the current year were excluded because at the time of this research the year had not finished. The document type was limited to “article” and “review.” After applying these criteria, it was obtained 183 papers from the research process (104 obtained in SCOPUS and 79 results in Web of Science) (stages 1 and 2 from Table  3 and Fig.  1 ).

figure 1

Process of data collection and analysis

In the third stage, wherein some records were excluded, the data was filtered. To this end, other restrictions were applied:

Eliminating the repeats by cross-referencing the databases (62 documents)

The exclusion of 11 documents, after analysing the content of each, because the global subject of the articles was different from the scope of the study

Although language was not a filter, it should be noted that the search was developed utilizing English, which could be understood as “quasi-filter.”

The procedures followed in the data collection and the application of the eligibility criteria complete Fig.  1 which demonstrates the careful way in which the final database was obtained ( n  = 110).

Mapping and Qualitative Analysis

R-Bibliometrix summarized the mapping of the documents included in the final database with the information considered relevant, as shown in Table  4 . Table 4 reveals that the dataset contains 110 documents published between 2011 and 2022, representing the work of 276 authors from 32 different countries. The average years from publication is 3.31 and the average number of citations per documents 13.4. The number of authors and co-authors per document is 2.5 and 2.7.

The first study in the final database addressed the entrepreneurship ecosystems, and the global innovation networks were written by Malecki in 2011. For the author, the existing knowledge is dispersed as it results from entrepreneurial activity originating from small and medium enterprises, research institutes and universities. Malecki ( 2011 ) suggested the simultaneous integration of local and global knowledge as well as internal and external.

A reading of Tables  4 and  5 reveals that various articles have been published recently (during 2011–2022). Moreover, an increase of publications (except 2012 and 2013) shows an increasing trend, suggesting that the subject has been progressively gaining popularity in the academic community. The results reveal and confirm the increase prevalence of research on EEs over the past 11 years.

In 2022, the number reached 24 articles in the last year of the period. After 2014, there was a considerable increase in the number of published articles. The data shows a turning point in 2018 (14) and 2019 (23). This latter year and 2022 standing out with the highest number of published articles. It is important to mention that more than half of the articles (62) were published in the last 3 years. The production growth rate is 33.5%.

According to the average number of citations, per year, the articles written in 2022 were those with a higher number (9.79) followed by articles from the years 2011, 2018 and 2019. This increment in the interest of EE results from the fact that this concept has assumed a global and multidisciplinary dimension recognized and associated with innovation by the various economic and social actors.

Table 6 presents the five authors and journals that have contributed for research’s development. The most cited papers by author were those of Malecki, with 185, followed by Audretsh, with 111, and Carayannis, with 110. The three authors who have published the most with the highest local impact (TC index) are Cunningham (4 publications, TC 156), Audretsh (3 publications, TC 184) and Menter (3 publications, TC 154).

R-Bibliometrix software was used to identify the keywords mentioned in the 110 documents of the final sample. As can be seen in the Fig.  2 , the most frequently terms mentioned are “entrepreneurial ecosystem”, “entrepreneurial university”, “entrepreneurial education”, “university”, innovation” and “higher education”. This also shows that of the studies analysed word association results as “academic entrepreneurship”.

figure 2

Most mentioned keywords

Table 7 summarizes the applied methodologies. As an emerging theoretical stream, EEs have been studied through qualitative methods. Thus, several articles use a case study technique. There is an increase on quantitative methods using factor analysis and structural equation modelling to understand variations in entrepreneurship and develop metrics. Researchers have used mixed methods, both qualitative and quantitative data collection techniques to address the complexity of the phenomenon.

Concerning methodologies, of a total 110 articles, 59 documents (54%) use a qualitative approach, through the technique of data collection via interviews (in-depth and semi-structured), samples, observation and documentary analysis. The case study technique, inserted in this approach, focuses on 25 articles, meaning that its weighting is 42% in relation to the total number of articles that use qualitative methodologies. The 28 articles (around 25%) use a quantitative approach through data collection techniques involving the application of questionnaires and secondary data (statistics) and eight articles (7%) use mixed methods, namely, they use both qualitative and quantitative data collection techniques. Eight conceptual articles (7%) and seven literature review articles (6%) were identified. Of this literature review, five are based on systematic literature reviews. From the numbers, we deduce that there is no balance of methods in EE and HEI studies and literature reviews are the least frequent type of publication.

Thematic Analysis

In this part of the article, the thematic analysis results will be examined. It will start with the strategic and evolutionary analysis and, subsequently, the networks created by the co-citation analysis. The subsequent figures will be presented all results.

Strategic and Evolutionary Thematic Analysis

The strategic diagram for the studied subject is presented in Fig.  3 . The size of the circles represents the number of occurrences of these words. The upper right quadrant represents the main themes, and the upper left quadrant depicts the more specific themes, considered niche themes. The lower right quadrant represents the basic themes, and the lower left means that the theme may be emerging or disappearing.

figure 3

Strategic diagram

The themes in the upper right quadrant are “academic entrepreneurship” and “entrepreneurial”. All these sets of themes are crucial to the research in this paper.

The theme in the upper left quadrant is “start-ups”, “case study” and “networks.

The lower right quadrant represents the basic themes necessary for understanding the present study: “entrepreneurial ecosystem”, “entrepreneurial education”, “entrepreneurial university”. Also “university” and “technology transfer” are essential for the understanding on the topic. The lower left quadrant given the inexistence of declining themes but also gives the emerging themes, “entrepreneurial education” and “entrepreneur”. All this fact enhances the importance of the sets of themes in the article.

Thus, “networks”, “case study” and “academic entrepreneurship” reveal themselves as major themes. The transversal themes are “entrepreneurial ecosystems” and “university incubators”. This last phase, 2022, was the growth stage of an approach integrating Entrepreneurial Ecosystems and the Entrepreneurial University. Therefore, 2023 could be a high growth phase for an integrated approach to AEEs.

Figure  4 presents the evolution of research topics in entrepreneurial ecosystems and the relationship with the university. The data were analysed using the author’s keywords and cut-off points in the years 2014, 2018 and 2020. The results reveal a thematic evolution of the conceptual frameworks from 2011 to 2022. From the general concept of “Entrepreneurial Ecosystem” (2011–2014), “innovation” emerges in the thematic evolution (2015–2017). Therefore, the cut-off points were two periods when the first publications on the topic of the paper appeared (three publications in 2011–2014 and nine publications in 2015–2017).

figure 4

Thematic evolution, with cut-off points

In 2018, results of the emergence of thematic areas such as “education” and “higher education” are revealed. From 2019, “entrepreneurial ecosystem” gives way to “entrepreneurial education”, “entrepreneurial university” and its “ecosystem”. Likewise, the area of “innovation” gives way to a unique “entrepreneurial ecosystem” based on “entrepreneurial education”, “university”, “higher education” and “academic entrepreneurship”. The thematic evolution of the conceptual framework between 2018 and 2022 revealed that these periods are the most productive and creative with the highest number of base themes and driving themes evolving in these periods.

Cluster Analysis

A bibliometric analysis was carried out to understand how this field of study is divided into research clusters, and the co-citations were analysed. No cut-off point for the number of citations per document has been defined. All linked documents were selected, leaving us with a final analysis with 50 documents distributed by clusters. Each of the clusters, identified with different colours, can be observed in Fig.  5 . The colours indicate the clusters and the articles belonging to them. In addition, each article’s weight is assigned based on the links’ total strength, and the number of citations the publication has received. The top nodes are the publications with the highest link strength.

figure 5

Clusters networks through the co-citation analysis technique

Based on the visualization of Fig.  5 and after analysing the resulting network and the content of the articles, it is concluded that the research is divided into three thematic clusters (Table  8 ).

Cluster 1 (Blue)—Conceptualization and Attributes of Entrepreneurship Ecosystems

The first cluster is focused on the definition and attributes present in EEs. No consensus has been reached in the academic community on the theoretical characterization of the concept and the elements that characterize it.

While there is none accepted definition of an EE, as Spigel ( 2018 ) points out, the most active area of interest has been around the types of domains (Isenberg, 2010 , 2011 ), components (Cohen, 2006 ) or attributes (Spigel, 2017 ).

Diverse literature provides tools that show several factors considered important for a successful EE. Cohen ( 2006 ) refers to formal and informal networks, government, university, skilled human resources, support services, funding and talent. The works of Isenberg ( 2010 , 2011 ) list six domains present in the ecosystem: policy, funding, culture, support, human capital and markets.

Spigel ( 2017 ) efforts to rank the categories of an EE in terms of (i) cultural attributes (entrepreneurship stories, supportive culture), (ii) social attributes (talent, mentors, networks, investment capital) and (iii) material attributes (infrastructure, universities, support services, public policies, open markets). Spigel and Harrison ( 2018 ) give attention to several factors such as governance, knowledge, industry, actors, resources and benefits.

Table 9 summarizes the attributes by applying them to the EEs.

Although the topic on the attributes of EEs is innovative, it has not been without trials. Several articles highlight criticisms of previous work (Alvedalen & Boschma, 2017 ; Brown & Mason, 2017 ; Malecki, 2018 ; Nicotra et al., 2018 ; Stam & Spigel, 2017 ). Alvedalen and Boschma ( 2017 ), Nicotra et al. ( 2018 ) and Stam and Spigel ( 2017 ) highlighted the lack of a clear analytical framework to empirically explain the cause-effect relationship of EEs’ attributes and their effects on productive entrepreneurship. The static approach of EE studies was another criticism highlighted as its evolution over time was not considered. Finally, Malecki ( 2018 ) noted the lack of an issue related to spatial scale.

Cluster 2 (Red)—Spatial Context and Knowledge Ecosystems

Beyond definitional debates, the lead author of this cluster, Stam ( 2015 ), expresses himself critically concerning studies of EEs. He underlines that it is not only generating entrepreneurship that makes it a good EE. He also mentions that the approaches only offer a long list of elements without a cause-effect relationship and concludes that it is unclear what level of geographical analysis the approaches have taken into consideration. The author refers that a new emerging approach to EE occurs, conveying a new view on people, networks and institutions. From this emerging approach, differentiations have emerged at two levels: spatial context and dynamics of knowledge ecosystems.

The first sub-division of this cluster refers to the importance of context in EEs (Acs et al., 2014 ; Cohen, 2006 ; Spigel, 2017 ; Stam, 2015 ). For Stam ( 2015 ), the common denominator in this sub-cluster seems to be that entrepreneurs create value in a specific institutional context. The author approach emphasizes the interdependencies within the context and provides a bottom-up analysis of the performance of regional economies. Stam ( 2015 ) argues that EEs open the door to a shared responsibility among actors that foster, encourage and support entrepreneurs, asking about the systemic services that a region tries to achieve.

The second sub-cluster analyses the dynamics of knowledge ecosystems, namely, the role of HEIs for value creation in a given context. Kuratko ( 2005 ), in his study, notes that younger people have become the most entrepreneurial generation since the Industrial Revolution. The growth and development in programmes and curricula dedicated to entrepreneurship and the creation of new projects have been remarkable. The number of colleges and universities offering entrepreneurship-related courses has increased. However, among this enormous expansion, for Kuratko ( 2005 ) there remains the challenge of the academic legitimacy of entrepreneurship. Although there has been this significant growth, the author points out two specific challenges to academia: (i) development of academic programmes and specialized human resources to improve the quality of courses and (ii) commitment by institutions to create formal academic programmes.

Clarysse et al. ( 2014 ) analysed the tension between knowledge and business ecosystems. In relation to the success factors, they seem similar: diversity of organizations and key actors. However, regarding the factors, anchor organizations in knowledge are universities and public research organizations that do not directly compete with the ecosystem. In contrast, key actors in EEs are based on companies that are competitors in the ecosystem. Another difference lies in value creation. In knowledge ecosystems, to Clarysse et al. ( 2014 ), the value creation flows from upstream to downstream, while in EEs, the value creation process is non-linear . The author’s note that some studies already include universities as part of the knowledge system but that further research could focus on analysing the circumstances under which a university could be considered an ecosystem and how the interaction between knowledge and business ecosystems would occur. Miller and Acs ( 2017 ) explore the EE of higher education by choosing a university campus because the “entrepreneurial opportunities had been identified and/or the process of firm-formation had begun by multiple founders…” (p. 82).

Cluster 3 (Green)—Inter-institutional Relationships in University’s Ecosystem

This third cluster leads us to the wider set of relationships in the university’s ecosystem, strategies and their specificities of regional/local factors. Audretsch et al. ( 2019 ) refers that EE is a vehicle for carrying entrepreneurs, policymakers and managers of linked companies and all their relationships organizing the EE. For the author, an EE is defined by frontiers, and the necessary resources are produced and absorbed within and beyond those boundaries.

Audretsch and Belitski ( 2017 ) set out to develop a model that captured both regional and local systemic factors to better understand and explain variations in entrepreneurial activity. In their study, they found four domains under EEs in European cities: norms and culture, infrastructure and equipment, formal institutions and Internet access and connections. To Audretsch and Link ( 2017 : 431), conceptually a university represents a “reservoir of knowledge, knowledge embodied in faculty…”. Universities are one part of the complexity of the research. They have evolved towards taking an active role in regional development and the dynamics of local networks. This evolution in the model involves inter-institutional relationships between the three actors, leading to an increasing overlap of their roles. The work of Schaeffer and Matt ( 2016 ) showed that universities cannot replicate the mechanisms that lead to the success of an EE but rather adapt their strategies to the specificities of each regional context.

Can academia encompass a third mission, beyond research and teaching? This question was formulated by Etzkowitz and Leydesdorff ( 2000 : 110). Three spaces emerge from the triple helix model: the consensus space, a knowledge space (R&D activities) and innovation space.

Schaeffer and Matt ( 2016 ) state these are coordinated and managed by a regional innovation officer. The authors refer that this responsibility can be assigned to the university to contribute to developing the regional networks. They analysed the university of Strasbourg’s Technology Transfer Offices (TTO) and supported entrepreneurial academic activities over 15 years. The study reveals a strong growth in the structure of the TTO and its role as a boundary, changing objectives and developing collaborations with other regional actors. As pointed by Fini et al. ( 2011 ) and Vohora et al. ( 2004 ), since university faculty have limited entrepreneurial experience, networks with outside contacts are crucial to motivate the creation of entrepreneurial activities as well as their success.

In addition to TTOs, entrepreneurship education, either as part of the academic programme or as an extra-curricular offering, can provide students and faculty with important knowledge to stimulate and support entrepreneurial efforts (relationship to Cluster 2). While most of the study streams have focused on the role of faculty as academic entrepreneurs, Boh et al. ( 2016 ) focused on the role of students. The typology created by the authors provides insight into the various responsibilities of students and faculty in technology commercialisation. It is the different relationships between students, faculty and entrepreneurs and the analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of each that can lead to the creation of a successful spinoff. The authors, Boh et al. ( 2016 ), group into six the university practices, independent of the TTOs: project disciplines for technology commercialisation, mentoring programmes, incubator programmes, entrepreneurial business plans and entrepreneurial education for students and university professionals.

Other authors analyse the relation between social networks and academic entrepreneurship (Clarysse et al., 2011 ; Fini et al., 2011 ; Vohora et al., 2004 ), Spinoffs (Lockett & Wright, 2005 ; Fini et al, 2011 , 2017 ; Vohora et al., 2004 ; Clarysse et al., 2011 ; Hayter, 2016 ) and the entrepreneurial environment and academic programmes supporting entrepreneurship (Fini et al., 2011 ). As pointed by Fini et al. ( 2011 ) and Vohora et al. ( 2004 ), since university faculty have limited entrepreneurial experience, networks with outside contacts are crucial to motivate the creation of entrepreneurial activities as well as their success. Vohora et al. ( 2004 ) argues that networks are pathways through which access to opportunities will be achieved, for example, gaining knowledge of the market that motivates the creation of the spinoff. Hayter ( 2016 ) uses Vohora et al. ( 2004 ) qualitative model of entrepreneurial development and that includes four stages of development: opportunity recognition, commitment, credibility and sustainability, as well as the resources and network elements associated with each stage. Entrepreneurial development and its success are reflected in the progression of the university spinoff , overcoming the obstacles of each stage, with the aim of achieving entrepreneurial sustainability.

Hayter ( 2016 ), using mixed methods, compares the composition and contribution of social networks among entrepreneurial academics and analyses how these networks relate to the development trajectory of university spinoffs . The traditional definition of spinoff , according to Hayter et al. ( 2017 ) focuses on the role of faculty establishing a company based on a technology licensing agreement, with their home university. University spinoffs , for Hayter ( 2016 ), are an important vehicle for generating productivity, job creation and prosperity for regional economies. The author also mentions that spinoffs are a window through which the contributions of universities can be examined. He compares the composition and contribution of social networks among entrepreneurial academics and analyses how these networks relate to the development trajectory of university spinoffs.

Cluster Relations

The three clusters are related. The cluster 2 indicates the importance of higher education for EE and cluster 3 leads us to the triple helix model with the focus on university entrepreneurial experience. Cluster 1 introduces definitions and attributes necessaries to understand the EE and their relationship with or within the HEIs. This cluster creates a theoretical background with relevant publications in entrepreneurship research.

Clusters 2 and 3 have a robust relation. Notably, the position of Stam ( 2015 ) and Spigel ( 2017 ) influences 2 clusters, indicating higher link strength and confirming its centrality in the EE literature. Various articles from cluster 2 criticize the analytical framework that produces long lists of factors that enhance entrepreneurship. Their perspective enables researchers to measure an EE within a country or territory by considering their specificities. This understanding highlights the configuration, structure and evolution of ecosystems influenced by ecosystem process and territorial boundaries.

In cluster 3 it is evident that the challenge of the third mission that academia encompass emphasizes entrepreneurship and the corresponding emergence of the entrepreneurial university. The relationships between students, faculty and entrepreneurs and the analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of each can lead to the creation of a successful spinoff.

To understand the substance of AEE and how the broad research was advanced, the group of these three clusters creates a fundamental and theoretical base to: the terminology of EE, the higher education context and the emergence of an AEE (Fig.  6 ).

figure 6

Academic entrepreneurship ecosystem model

Contributions and Future Research Directions

The scientific literature about entrepreneurial ecosystems has been growing, and within it, one area that has been gaining impulse has been the academic ecosystem. This paper contributes by attempting to consolidate the most important of this growing literature and to try to confirm it.

This study brings important theoretical contributions to the existing literature. Firstly, this study led to a survey and mapping of the main investigations on EE and their relationship with the HEI. Secondly, this study strengthens the credibility of the AEE theoretical frameworks in lending support to the importance of analysing the specific contributions of HEIs to the development of an EE. Thirdly, the developed co-citation analysis allowed obtaining an understanding about the existing field of knowledge on EEs and AEE, identifying their scientific origins and revealing research roots.

Most contributions are conceptual providing an understanding of the different elements that form conducive AEE. Therefore, as a fourth contribution, this study emphasizes the need for more empirical research, especially regarding potential causal relations between elements, context factors, outputs and outcomes of entrepreneurial ecosystems. The few empirical studies on entrepreneurial ecosystems have majorly applied case studies including qualitative methods (Kansheba & Wald, 2020 ; Malecki, 2018 ; Nicotra et al., 2018 ). There is a need of deploying other methodological approaches for more rigor and generalizability purposes.

The above leads us to propose as possible future research directions. As mentioned, most research studies on EEs and AEEs have adopted the qualitative methodological approach (particularly case studies), which is understandable since the research topic is emergent. However, considering the systematic research conducted here, it is believed that this topic would benefit from implementing mixed methodologies (as has already been carried out by some of the authors included here). Thus, with the adoption of qualitative and quantitative methodologies, it will be attempted, in a future line of research, to build an assessment tool for an AEE.

The composition of clusters groups generated research points. Studying an AEE based on a regional scale will imply, firstly, building a theoretical framework, based on multiple dimensions, which allows the development of the EE model. HEIs are a complex process which involves an extensive research approach to accurately represent the levels and components of the entire entrepreneurial ecosystem (cluster 1). It will be necessary to study whether the HEI develops strategies adapted to the specificities of its EE. Likewise, to explore the pillars of the model from the point of view of young university students who show varying degrees of entrepreneurial intention (cluster 2). Several studies have found that entrepreneurship education has a positive impact on students’ entrepreneurial intention (Peterman & Kennedy, 2003 ; Souitaris et al., 2007 ; Pruett et al., 2009 ; Engle et al., 2010 ; Lanero et al., 2011 ; Sanchez, 2013 ; Bae et al., 2014 ; Sansone et al., 2021 ). Vanevenhoven ( 2013 ) and Fiore et al. ( 2019 ) have warned of the need for more research into the impact of entrepreneurship education on students in different contexts. Although there has been a growing number of publications on the role of intentions in the entrepreneurial process (Liñán & Fayolle, 2015 ; Ferreira-Neto et al, 2023 ), there is still a gap in research on how to improve the presence of higher education students in entrepreneurial activities so that they can face the problems of the labour market. A broader study could be undertaken, from a mixed approach, to establish mechanisms to collect appropriate data and to establish the different levels of success of EE outcomes, by the HEI (cluster 3).

Finally, the relevance of knowledge of skilled people has brought to the policy agenda of governments worldwide the need to modernize science and higher education systems and institutions (Santos et al., 2016 ; Scott, 2000 ). Portugal is characterized as a developed country but with a poorly qualified workforce in European average terms, facing structural barriers to economic growth (Carneiro et al., 2014 ). It was also a country that has seen one of the fastest developments in its scientific system at the beginning of the twenty-first century (Heitor et al., 2014 ). The emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic has brought new challenges to the country: the establishment of telework and the intense decline in economic activity were some of the most evident cross-cutting changes, with direct consequences for the emergence of new forms and policies to support the employment (Sousa & Paiva, 2023 ).

All these reasons have been supporting the need to make a RSL focused on how young graduates capture new forms and conditions of the exercise of work. This knowledge is crucial to investigate wow the entrepreneurial skills or the academic entrepreneurship path is in the future.

Conclusions and Limitations

The quest to identify and define EEs has become an issue of great importance as countries, regions and cities handle with an entrepreneurial economy. The range of these topics is wide and ambiguous. Researchers and practitioners have assessed various contributions, most of which identify HEIs as important development institutions. Marques et al., ( 2021 : 133) highlight their importance, stating that HEIs “… are seen as organizations responsible for human resource training, knowledge transfer, and regional development”.

This work used data from the Scopus and WoS databases. Based on 110 academic articles obtained through a rigorous data collection process, the study went beyond describing elementary information, standing out in relation to the review studies found and filling a gap in the field of EEs taking into consideration higher education institutions. It also revealed the embryonic state of research (2011–2022) and reinforced the scientific importance of the topic since about 56% of the articles were published in the last 3 years. The results were published in a variety of indexed journals. However, this study shows the limitations in other literature reviews.

Despite considering that this study constitutes a work that will be the object of the development in the coming years, the study is not without limitations. The first limitation concerns to the search strategy. This study is based on the regular updating of databases with the consequent increase or decrease in the number of indexed journals, so a bibliometric analysis of an emerging topic can be subject to substantial variations in just a very few years. The other limitation of this study is that it used two different databases to analyse a particular topic. Despite being two of the most influential databases, the overview could be improved by including other databases. Another limitation is the subjectivity present in the scientific articles analysis. Although bibliometric methods help to reduce subjectivity, it is not possible to completely exclude some interpretative biases.

Data Availability

Available upon reasonable request from the corresponding author.

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Correia, M.P., Marques, C.S., Silva, R. et al. Academic Entrepreneurship Ecosystems: Systematic Literature Review and Future Research Directions. J Knowl Econ (2024). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13132-024-01819-x

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Lau F, Kuziemsky C, editors. Handbook of eHealth Evaluation: An Evidence-based Approach [Internet]. Victoria (BC): University of Victoria; 2017 Feb 27.

Cover of Handbook of eHealth Evaluation: An Evidence-based Approach

Handbook of eHealth Evaluation: An Evidence-based Approach [Internet].

Chapter 9 methods for literature reviews.

Guy Paré and Spyros Kitsiou .

9.1. Introduction

Literature reviews play a critical role in scholarship because science remains, first and foremost, a cumulative endeavour ( vom Brocke et al., 2009 ). As in any academic discipline, rigorous knowledge syntheses are becoming indispensable in keeping up with an exponentially growing eHealth literature, assisting practitioners, academics, and graduate students in finding, evaluating, and synthesizing the contents of many empirical and conceptual papers. Among other methods, literature reviews are essential for: (a) identifying what has been written on a subject or topic; (b) determining the extent to which a specific research area reveals any interpretable trends or patterns; (c) aggregating empirical findings related to a narrow research question to support evidence-based practice; (d) generating new frameworks and theories; and (e) identifying topics or questions requiring more investigation ( Paré, Trudel, Jaana, & Kitsiou, 2015 ).

Literature reviews can take two major forms. The most prevalent one is the “literature review” or “background” section within a journal paper or a chapter in a graduate thesis. This section synthesizes the extant literature and usually identifies the gaps in knowledge that the empirical study addresses ( Sylvester, Tate, & Johnstone, 2013 ). It may also provide a theoretical foundation for the proposed study, substantiate the presence of the research problem, justify the research as one that contributes something new to the cumulated knowledge, or validate the methods and approaches for the proposed study ( Hart, 1998 ; Levy & Ellis, 2006 ).

The second form of literature review, which is the focus of this chapter, constitutes an original and valuable work of research in and of itself ( Paré et al., 2015 ). Rather than providing a base for a researcher’s own work, it creates a solid starting point for all members of the community interested in a particular area or topic ( Mulrow, 1987 ). The so-called “review article” is a journal-length paper which has an overarching purpose to synthesize the literature in a field, without collecting or analyzing any primary data ( Green, Johnson, & Adams, 2006 ).

When appropriately conducted, review articles represent powerful information sources for practitioners looking for state-of-the art evidence to guide their decision-making and work practices ( Paré et al., 2015 ). Further, high-quality reviews become frequently cited pieces of work which researchers seek out as a first clear outline of the literature when undertaking empirical studies ( Cooper, 1988 ; Rowe, 2014 ). Scholars who track and gauge the impact of articles have found that review papers are cited and downloaded more often than any other type of published article ( Cronin, Ryan, & Coughlan, 2008 ; Montori, Wilczynski, Morgan, Haynes, & Hedges, 2003 ; Patsopoulos, Analatos, & Ioannidis, 2005 ). The reason for their popularity may be the fact that reading the review enables one to have an overview, if not a detailed knowledge of the area in question, as well as references to the most useful primary sources ( Cronin et al., 2008 ). Although they are not easy to conduct, the commitment to complete a review article provides a tremendous service to one’s academic community ( Paré et al., 2015 ; Petticrew & Roberts, 2006 ). Most, if not all, peer-reviewed journals in the fields of medical informatics publish review articles of some type.

The main objectives of this chapter are fourfold: (a) to provide an overview of the major steps and activities involved in conducting a stand-alone literature review; (b) to describe and contrast the different types of review articles that can contribute to the eHealth knowledge base; (c) to illustrate each review type with one or two examples from the eHealth literature; and (d) to provide a series of recommendations for prospective authors of review articles in this domain.

9.2. Overview of the Literature Review Process and Steps

As explained in Templier and Paré (2015) , there are six generic steps involved in conducting a review article:

  • formulating the research question(s) and objective(s),
  • searching the extant literature,
  • screening for inclusion,
  • assessing the quality of primary studies,
  • extracting data, and
  • analyzing data.

Although these steps are presented here in sequential order, one must keep in mind that the review process can be iterative and that many activities can be initiated during the planning stage and later refined during subsequent phases ( Finfgeld-Connett & Johnson, 2013 ; Kitchenham & Charters, 2007 ).

Formulating the research question(s) and objective(s): As a first step, members of the review team must appropriately justify the need for the review itself ( Petticrew & Roberts, 2006 ), identify the review’s main objective(s) ( Okoli & Schabram, 2010 ), and define the concepts or variables at the heart of their synthesis ( Cooper & Hedges, 2009 ; Webster & Watson, 2002 ). Importantly, they also need to articulate the research question(s) they propose to investigate ( Kitchenham & Charters, 2007 ). In this regard, we concur with Jesson, Matheson, and Lacey (2011) that clearly articulated research questions are key ingredients that guide the entire review methodology; they underscore the type of information that is needed, inform the search for and selection of relevant literature, and guide or orient the subsequent analysis. Searching the extant literature: The next step consists of searching the literature and making decisions about the suitability of material to be considered in the review ( Cooper, 1988 ). There exist three main coverage strategies. First, exhaustive coverage means an effort is made to be as comprehensive as possible in order to ensure that all relevant studies, published and unpublished, are included in the review and, thus, conclusions are based on this all-inclusive knowledge base. The second type of coverage consists of presenting materials that are representative of most other works in a given field or area. Often authors who adopt this strategy will search for relevant articles in a small number of top-tier journals in a field ( Paré et al., 2015 ). In the third strategy, the review team concentrates on prior works that have been central or pivotal to a particular topic. This may include empirical studies or conceptual papers that initiated a line of investigation, changed how problems or questions were framed, introduced new methods or concepts, or engendered important debate ( Cooper, 1988 ). Screening for inclusion: The following step consists of evaluating the applicability of the material identified in the preceding step ( Levy & Ellis, 2006 ; vom Brocke et al., 2009 ). Once a group of potential studies has been identified, members of the review team must screen them to determine their relevance ( Petticrew & Roberts, 2006 ). A set of predetermined rules provides a basis for including or excluding certain studies. This exercise requires a significant investment on the part of researchers, who must ensure enhanced objectivity and avoid biases or mistakes. As discussed later in this chapter, for certain types of reviews there must be at least two independent reviewers involved in the screening process and a procedure to resolve disagreements must also be in place ( Liberati et al., 2009 ; Shea et al., 2009 ). Assessing the quality of primary studies: In addition to screening material for inclusion, members of the review team may need to assess the scientific quality of the selected studies, that is, appraise the rigour of the research design and methods. Such formal assessment, which is usually conducted independently by at least two coders, helps members of the review team refine which studies to include in the final sample, determine whether or not the differences in quality may affect their conclusions, or guide how they analyze the data and interpret the findings ( Petticrew & Roberts, 2006 ). Ascribing quality scores to each primary study or considering through domain-based evaluations which study components have or have not been designed and executed appropriately makes it possible to reflect on the extent to which the selected study addresses possible biases and maximizes validity ( Shea et al., 2009 ). Extracting data: The following step involves gathering or extracting applicable information from each primary study included in the sample and deciding what is relevant to the problem of interest ( Cooper & Hedges, 2009 ). Indeed, the type of data that should be recorded mainly depends on the initial research questions ( Okoli & Schabram, 2010 ). However, important information may also be gathered about how, when, where and by whom the primary study was conducted, the research design and methods, or qualitative/quantitative results ( Cooper & Hedges, 2009 ). Analyzing and synthesizing data : As a final step, members of the review team must collate, summarize, aggregate, organize, and compare the evidence extracted from the included studies. The extracted data must be presented in a meaningful way that suggests a new contribution to the extant literature ( Jesson et al., 2011 ). Webster and Watson (2002) warn researchers that literature reviews should be much more than lists of papers and should provide a coherent lens to make sense of extant knowledge on a given topic. There exist several methods and techniques for synthesizing quantitative (e.g., frequency analysis, meta-analysis) and qualitative (e.g., grounded theory, narrative analysis, meta-ethnography) evidence ( Dixon-Woods, Agarwal, Jones, Young, & Sutton, 2005 ; Thomas & Harden, 2008 ).

9.3. Types of Review Articles and Brief Illustrations

EHealth researchers have at their disposal a number of approaches and methods for making sense out of existing literature, all with the purpose of casting current research findings into historical contexts or explaining contradictions that might exist among a set of primary research studies conducted on a particular topic. Our classification scheme is largely inspired from Paré and colleagues’ (2015) typology. Below we present and illustrate those review types that we feel are central to the growth and development of the eHealth domain.

9.3.1. Narrative Reviews

The narrative review is the “traditional” way of reviewing the extant literature and is skewed towards a qualitative interpretation of prior knowledge ( Sylvester et al., 2013 ). Put simply, a narrative review attempts to summarize or synthesize what has been written on a particular topic but does not seek generalization or cumulative knowledge from what is reviewed ( Davies, 2000 ; Green et al., 2006 ). Instead, the review team often undertakes the task of accumulating and synthesizing the literature to demonstrate the value of a particular point of view ( Baumeister & Leary, 1997 ). As such, reviewers may selectively ignore or limit the attention paid to certain studies in order to make a point. In this rather unsystematic approach, the selection of information from primary articles is subjective, lacks explicit criteria for inclusion and can lead to biased interpretations or inferences ( Green et al., 2006 ). There are several narrative reviews in the particular eHealth domain, as in all fields, which follow such an unstructured approach ( Silva et al., 2015 ; Paul et al., 2015 ).

Despite these criticisms, this type of review can be very useful in gathering together a volume of literature in a specific subject area and synthesizing it. As mentioned above, its primary purpose is to provide the reader with a comprehensive background for understanding current knowledge and highlighting the significance of new research ( Cronin et al., 2008 ). Faculty like to use narrative reviews in the classroom because they are often more up to date than textbooks, provide a single source for students to reference, and expose students to peer-reviewed literature ( Green et al., 2006 ). For researchers, narrative reviews can inspire research ideas by identifying gaps or inconsistencies in a body of knowledge, thus helping researchers to determine research questions or formulate hypotheses. Importantly, narrative reviews can also be used as educational articles to bring practitioners up to date with certain topics of issues ( Green et al., 2006 ).

Recently, there have been several efforts to introduce more rigour in narrative reviews that will elucidate common pitfalls and bring changes into their publication standards. Information systems researchers, among others, have contributed to advancing knowledge on how to structure a “traditional” review. For instance, Levy and Ellis (2006) proposed a generic framework for conducting such reviews. Their model follows the systematic data processing approach comprised of three steps, namely: (a) literature search and screening; (b) data extraction and analysis; and (c) writing the literature review. They provide detailed and very helpful instructions on how to conduct each step of the review process. As another methodological contribution, vom Brocke et al. (2009) offered a series of guidelines for conducting literature reviews, with a particular focus on how to search and extract the relevant body of knowledge. Last, Bandara, Miskon, and Fielt (2011) proposed a structured, predefined and tool-supported method to identify primary studies within a feasible scope, extract relevant content from identified articles, synthesize and analyze the findings, and effectively write and present the results of the literature review. We highly recommend that prospective authors of narrative reviews consult these useful sources before embarking on their work.

Darlow and Wen (2015) provide a good example of a highly structured narrative review in the eHealth field. These authors synthesized published articles that describe the development process of mobile health ( m-health ) interventions for patients’ cancer care self-management. As in most narrative reviews, the scope of the research questions being investigated is broad: (a) how development of these systems are carried out; (b) which methods are used to investigate these systems; and (c) what conclusions can be drawn as a result of the development of these systems. To provide clear answers to these questions, a literature search was conducted on six electronic databases and Google Scholar . The search was performed using several terms and free text words, combining them in an appropriate manner. Four inclusion and three exclusion criteria were utilized during the screening process. Both authors independently reviewed each of the identified articles to determine eligibility and extract study information. A flow diagram shows the number of studies identified, screened, and included or excluded at each stage of study selection. In terms of contributions, this review provides a series of practical recommendations for m-health intervention development.

9.3.2. Descriptive or Mapping Reviews

The primary goal of a descriptive review is to determine the extent to which a body of knowledge in a particular research topic reveals any interpretable pattern or trend with respect to pre-existing propositions, theories, methodologies or findings ( King & He, 2005 ; Paré et al., 2015 ). In contrast with narrative reviews, descriptive reviews follow a systematic and transparent procedure, including searching, screening and classifying studies ( Petersen, Vakkalanka, & Kuzniarz, 2015 ). Indeed, structured search methods are used to form a representative sample of a larger group of published works ( Paré et al., 2015 ). Further, authors of descriptive reviews extract from each study certain characteristics of interest, such as publication year, research methods, data collection techniques, and direction or strength of research outcomes (e.g., positive, negative, or non-significant) in the form of frequency analysis to produce quantitative results ( Sylvester et al., 2013 ). In essence, each study included in a descriptive review is treated as the unit of analysis and the published literature as a whole provides a database from which the authors attempt to identify any interpretable trends or draw overall conclusions about the merits of existing conceptualizations, propositions, methods or findings ( Paré et al., 2015 ). In doing so, a descriptive review may claim that its findings represent the state of the art in a particular domain ( King & He, 2005 ).

In the fields of health sciences and medical informatics, reviews that focus on examining the range, nature and evolution of a topic area are described by Anderson, Allen, Peckham, and Goodwin (2008) as mapping reviews . Like descriptive reviews, the research questions are generic and usually relate to publication patterns and trends. There is no preconceived plan to systematically review all of the literature although this can be done. Instead, researchers often present studies that are representative of most works published in a particular area and they consider a specific time frame to be mapped.

An example of this approach in the eHealth domain is offered by DeShazo, Lavallie, and Wolf (2009). The purpose of this descriptive or mapping review was to characterize publication trends in the medical informatics literature over a 20-year period (1987 to 2006). To achieve this ambitious objective, the authors performed a bibliometric analysis of medical informatics citations indexed in medline using publication trends, journal frequencies, impact factors, Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) term frequencies, and characteristics of citations. Findings revealed that there were over 77,000 medical informatics articles published during the covered period in numerous journals and that the average annual growth rate was 12%. The MeSH term analysis also suggested a strong interdisciplinary trend. Finally, average impact scores increased over time with two notable growth periods. Overall, patterns in research outputs that seem to characterize the historic trends and current components of the field of medical informatics suggest it may be a maturing discipline (DeShazo et al., 2009).

9.3.3. Scoping Reviews

Scoping reviews attempt to provide an initial indication of the potential size and nature of the extant literature on an emergent topic (Arksey & O’Malley, 2005; Daudt, van Mossel, & Scott, 2013 ; Levac, Colquhoun, & O’Brien, 2010). A scoping review may be conducted to examine the extent, range and nature of research activities in a particular area, determine the value of undertaking a full systematic review (discussed next), or identify research gaps in the extant literature ( Paré et al., 2015 ). In line with their main objective, scoping reviews usually conclude with the presentation of a detailed research agenda for future works along with potential implications for both practice and research.

Unlike narrative and descriptive reviews, the whole point of scoping the field is to be as comprehensive as possible, including grey literature (Arksey & O’Malley, 2005). Inclusion and exclusion criteria must be established to help researchers eliminate studies that are not aligned with the research questions. It is also recommended that at least two independent coders review abstracts yielded from the search strategy and then the full articles for study selection ( Daudt et al., 2013 ). The synthesized evidence from content or thematic analysis is relatively easy to present in tabular form (Arksey & O’Malley, 2005; Thomas & Harden, 2008 ).

One of the most highly cited scoping reviews in the eHealth domain was published by Archer, Fevrier-Thomas, Lokker, McKibbon, and Straus (2011) . These authors reviewed the existing literature on personal health record ( phr ) systems including design, functionality, implementation, applications, outcomes, and benefits. Seven databases were searched from 1985 to March 2010. Several search terms relating to phr s were used during this process. Two authors independently screened titles and abstracts to determine inclusion status. A second screen of full-text articles, again by two independent members of the research team, ensured that the studies described phr s. All in all, 130 articles met the criteria and their data were extracted manually into a database. The authors concluded that although there is a large amount of survey, observational, cohort/panel, and anecdotal evidence of phr benefits and satisfaction for patients, more research is needed to evaluate the results of phr implementations. Their in-depth analysis of the literature signalled that there is little solid evidence from randomized controlled trials or other studies through the use of phr s. Hence, they suggested that more research is needed that addresses the current lack of understanding of optimal functionality and usability of these systems, and how they can play a beneficial role in supporting patient self-management ( Archer et al., 2011 ).

9.3.4. Forms of Aggregative Reviews

Healthcare providers, practitioners, and policy-makers are nowadays overwhelmed with large volumes of information, including research-based evidence from numerous clinical trials and evaluation studies, assessing the effectiveness of health information technologies and interventions ( Ammenwerth & de Keizer, 2004 ; Deshazo et al., 2009 ). It is unrealistic to expect that all these disparate actors will have the time, skills, and necessary resources to identify the available evidence in the area of their expertise and consider it when making decisions. Systematic reviews that involve the rigorous application of scientific strategies aimed at limiting subjectivity and bias (i.e., systematic and random errors) can respond to this challenge.

Systematic reviews attempt to aggregate, appraise, and synthesize in a single source all empirical evidence that meet a set of previously specified eligibility criteria in order to answer a clearly formulated and often narrow research question on a particular topic of interest to support evidence-based practice ( Liberati et al., 2009 ). They adhere closely to explicit scientific principles ( Liberati et al., 2009 ) and rigorous methodological guidelines (Higgins & Green, 2008) aimed at reducing random and systematic errors that can lead to deviations from the truth in results or inferences. The use of explicit methods allows systematic reviews to aggregate a large body of research evidence, assess whether effects or relationships are in the same direction and of the same general magnitude, explain possible inconsistencies between study results, and determine the strength of the overall evidence for every outcome of interest based on the quality of included studies and the general consistency among them ( Cook, Mulrow, & Haynes, 1997 ). The main procedures of a systematic review involve:

  • Formulating a review question and developing a search strategy based on explicit inclusion criteria for the identification of eligible studies (usually described in the context of a detailed review protocol).
  • Searching for eligible studies using multiple databases and information sources, including grey literature sources, without any language restrictions.
  • Selecting studies, extracting data, and assessing risk of bias in a duplicate manner using two independent reviewers to avoid random or systematic errors in the process.
  • Analyzing data using quantitative or qualitative methods.
  • Presenting results in summary of findings tables.
  • Interpreting results and drawing conclusions.

Many systematic reviews, but not all, use statistical methods to combine the results of independent studies into a single quantitative estimate or summary effect size. Known as meta-analyses , these reviews use specific data extraction and statistical techniques (e.g., network, frequentist, or Bayesian meta-analyses) to calculate from each study by outcome of interest an effect size along with a confidence interval that reflects the degree of uncertainty behind the point estimate of effect ( Borenstein, Hedges, Higgins, & Rothstein, 2009 ; Deeks, Higgins, & Altman, 2008 ). Subsequently, they use fixed or random-effects analysis models to combine the results of the included studies, assess statistical heterogeneity, and calculate a weighted average of the effect estimates from the different studies, taking into account their sample sizes. The summary effect size is a value that reflects the average magnitude of the intervention effect for a particular outcome of interest or, more generally, the strength of a relationship between two variables across all studies included in the systematic review. By statistically combining data from multiple studies, meta-analyses can create more precise and reliable estimates of intervention effects than those derived from individual studies alone, when these are examined independently as discrete sources of information.

The review by Gurol-Urganci, de Jongh, Vodopivec-Jamsek, Atun, and Car (2013) on the effects of mobile phone messaging reminders for attendance at healthcare appointments is an illustrative example of a high-quality systematic review with meta-analysis. Missed appointments are a major cause of inefficiency in healthcare delivery with substantial monetary costs to health systems. These authors sought to assess whether mobile phone-based appointment reminders delivered through Short Message Service ( sms ) or Multimedia Messaging Service ( mms ) are effective in improving rates of patient attendance and reducing overall costs. To this end, they conducted a comprehensive search on multiple databases using highly sensitive search strategies without language or publication-type restrictions to identify all rct s that are eligible for inclusion. In order to minimize the risk of omitting eligible studies not captured by the original search, they supplemented all electronic searches with manual screening of trial registers and references contained in the included studies. Study selection, data extraction, and risk of bias assessments were performed inde­­pen­dently by two coders using standardized methods to ensure consistency and to eliminate potential errors. Findings from eight rct s involving 6,615 participants were pooled into meta-analyses to calculate the magnitude of effects that mobile text message reminders have on the rate of attendance at healthcare appointments compared to no reminders and phone call reminders.

Meta-analyses are regarded as powerful tools for deriving meaningful conclusions. However, there are situations in which it is neither reasonable nor appropriate to pool studies together using meta-analytic methods simply because there is extensive clinical heterogeneity between the included studies or variation in measurement tools, comparisons, or outcomes of interest. In these cases, systematic reviews can use qualitative synthesis methods such as vote counting, content analysis, classification schemes and tabulations, as an alternative approach to narratively synthesize the results of the independent studies included in the review. This form of review is known as qualitative systematic review.

A rigorous example of one such review in the eHealth domain is presented by Mickan, Atherton, Roberts, Heneghan, and Tilson (2014) on the use of handheld computers by healthcare professionals and their impact on access to information and clinical decision-making. In line with the methodological guide­lines for systematic reviews, these authors: (a) developed and registered with prospero ( www.crd.york.ac.uk/ prospero / ) an a priori review protocol; (b) conducted comprehensive searches for eligible studies using multiple databases and other supplementary strategies (e.g., forward searches); and (c) subsequently carried out study selection, data extraction, and risk of bias assessments in a duplicate manner to eliminate potential errors in the review process. Heterogeneity between the included studies in terms of reported outcomes and measures precluded the use of meta-analytic methods. To this end, the authors resorted to using narrative analysis and synthesis to describe the effectiveness of handheld computers on accessing information for clinical knowledge, adherence to safety and clinical quality guidelines, and diagnostic decision-making.

In recent years, the number of systematic reviews in the field of health informatics has increased considerably. Systematic reviews with discordant findings can cause great confusion and make it difficult for decision-makers to interpret the review-level evidence ( Moher, 2013 ). Therefore, there is a growing need for appraisal and synthesis of prior systematic reviews to ensure that decision-making is constantly informed by the best available accumulated evidence. Umbrella reviews , also known as overviews of systematic reviews, are tertiary types of evidence synthesis that aim to accomplish this; that is, they aim to compare and contrast findings from multiple systematic reviews and meta-analyses ( Becker & Oxman, 2008 ). Umbrella reviews generally adhere to the same principles and rigorous methodological guidelines used in systematic reviews. However, the unit of analysis in umbrella reviews is the systematic review rather than the primary study ( Becker & Oxman, 2008 ). Unlike systematic reviews that have a narrow focus of inquiry, umbrella reviews focus on broader research topics for which there are several potential interventions ( Smith, Devane, Begley, & Clarke, 2011 ). A recent umbrella review on the effects of home telemonitoring interventions for patients with heart failure critically appraised, compared, and synthesized evidence from 15 systematic reviews to investigate which types of home telemonitoring technologies and forms of interventions are more effective in reducing mortality and hospital admissions ( Kitsiou, Paré, & Jaana, 2015 ).

9.3.5. Realist Reviews

Realist reviews are theory-driven interpretative reviews developed to inform, enhance, or supplement conventional systematic reviews by making sense of heterogeneous evidence about complex interventions applied in diverse contexts in a way that informs policy decision-making ( Greenhalgh, Wong, Westhorp, & Pawson, 2011 ). They originated from criticisms of positivist systematic reviews which centre on their “simplistic” underlying assumptions ( Oates, 2011 ). As explained above, systematic reviews seek to identify causation. Such logic is appropriate for fields like medicine and education where findings of randomized controlled trials can be aggregated to see whether a new treatment or intervention does improve outcomes. However, many argue that it is not possible to establish such direct causal links between interventions and outcomes in fields such as social policy, management, and information systems where for any intervention there is unlikely to be a regular or consistent outcome ( Oates, 2011 ; Pawson, 2006 ; Rousseau, Manning, & Denyer, 2008 ).

To circumvent these limitations, Pawson, Greenhalgh, Harvey, and Walshe (2005) have proposed a new approach for synthesizing knowledge that seeks to unpack the mechanism of how “complex interventions” work in particular contexts. The basic research question — what works? — which is usually associated with systematic reviews changes to: what is it about this intervention that works, for whom, in what circumstances, in what respects and why? Realist reviews have no particular preference for either quantitative or qualitative evidence. As a theory-building approach, a realist review usually starts by articulating likely underlying mechanisms and then scrutinizes available evidence to find out whether and where these mechanisms are applicable ( Shepperd et al., 2009 ). Primary studies found in the extant literature are viewed as case studies which can test and modify the initial theories ( Rousseau et al., 2008 ).

The main objective pursued in the realist review conducted by Otte-Trojel, de Bont, Rundall, and van de Klundert (2014) was to examine how patient portals contribute to health service delivery and patient outcomes. The specific goals were to investigate how outcomes are produced and, most importantly, how variations in outcomes can be explained. The research team started with an exploratory review of background documents and research studies to identify ways in which patient portals may contribute to health service delivery and patient outcomes. The authors identified six main ways which represent “educated guesses” to be tested against the data in the evaluation studies. These studies were identified through a formal and systematic search in four databases between 2003 and 2013. Two members of the research team selected the articles using a pre-established list of inclusion and exclusion criteria and following a two-step procedure. The authors then extracted data from the selected articles and created several tables, one for each outcome category. They organized information to bring forward those mechanisms where patient portals contribute to outcomes and the variation in outcomes across different contexts.

9.3.6. Critical Reviews

Lastly, critical reviews aim to provide a critical evaluation and interpretive analysis of existing literature on a particular topic of interest to reveal strengths, weaknesses, contradictions, controversies, inconsistencies, and/or other important issues with respect to theories, hypotheses, research methods or results ( Baumeister & Leary, 1997 ; Kirkevold, 1997 ). Unlike other review types, critical reviews attempt to take a reflective account of the research that has been done in a particular area of interest, and assess its credibility by using appraisal instruments or critical interpretive methods. In this way, critical reviews attempt to constructively inform other scholars about the weaknesses of prior research and strengthen knowledge development by giving focus and direction to studies for further improvement ( Kirkevold, 1997 ).

Kitsiou, Paré, and Jaana (2013) provide an example of a critical review that assessed the methodological quality of prior systematic reviews of home telemonitoring studies for chronic patients. The authors conducted a comprehensive search on multiple databases to identify eligible reviews and subsequently used a validated instrument to conduct an in-depth quality appraisal. Results indicate that the majority of systematic reviews in this particular area suffer from important methodological flaws and biases that impair their internal validity and limit their usefulness for clinical and decision-making purposes. To this end, they provide a number of recommendations to strengthen knowledge development towards improving the design and execution of future reviews on home telemonitoring.

9.4. Summary

Table 9.1 outlines the main types of literature reviews that were described in the previous sub-sections and summarizes the main characteristics that distinguish one review type from another. It also includes key references to methodological guidelines and useful sources that can be used by eHealth scholars and researchers for planning and developing reviews.

Table 9.1. Typology of Literature Reviews (adapted from Paré et al., 2015).

Typology of Literature Reviews (adapted from Paré et al., 2015).

As shown in Table 9.1 , each review type addresses different kinds of research questions or objectives, which subsequently define and dictate the methods and approaches that need to be used to achieve the overarching goal(s) of the review. For example, in the case of narrative reviews, there is greater flexibility in searching and synthesizing articles ( Green et al., 2006 ). Researchers are often relatively free to use a diversity of approaches to search, identify, and select relevant scientific articles, describe their operational characteristics, present how the individual studies fit together, and formulate conclusions. On the other hand, systematic reviews are characterized by their high level of systematicity, rigour, and use of explicit methods, based on an “a priori” review plan that aims to minimize bias in the analysis and synthesis process (Higgins & Green, 2008). Some reviews are exploratory in nature (e.g., scoping/mapping reviews), whereas others may be conducted to discover patterns (e.g., descriptive reviews) or involve a synthesis approach that may include the critical analysis of prior research ( Paré et al., 2015 ). Hence, in order to select the most appropriate type of review, it is critical to know before embarking on a review project, why the research synthesis is conducted and what type of methods are best aligned with the pursued goals.

9.5. Concluding Remarks

In light of the increased use of evidence-based practice and research generating stronger evidence ( Grady et al., 2011 ; Lyden et al., 2013 ), review articles have become essential tools for summarizing, synthesizing, integrating or critically appraising prior knowledge in the eHealth field. As mentioned earlier, when rigorously conducted review articles represent powerful information sources for eHealth scholars and practitioners looking for state-of-the-art evidence. The typology of literature reviews we used herein will allow eHealth researchers, graduate students and practitioners to gain a better understanding of the similarities and differences between review types.

We must stress that this classification scheme does not privilege any specific type of review as being of higher quality than another ( Paré et al., 2015 ). As explained above, each type of review has its own strengths and limitations. Having said that, we realize that the methodological rigour of any review — be it qualitative, quantitative or mixed — is a critical aspect that should be considered seriously by prospective authors. In the present context, the notion of rigour refers to the reliability and validity of the review process described in section 9.2. For one thing, reliability is related to the reproducibility of the review process and steps, which is facilitated by a comprehensive documentation of the literature search process, extraction, coding and analysis performed in the review. Whether the search is comprehensive or not, whether it involves a methodical approach for data extraction and synthesis or not, it is important that the review documents in an explicit and transparent manner the steps and approach that were used in the process of its development. Next, validity characterizes the degree to which the review process was conducted appropriately. It goes beyond documentation and reflects decisions related to the selection of the sources, the search terms used, the period of time covered, the articles selected in the search, and the application of backward and forward searches ( vom Brocke et al., 2009 ). In short, the rigour of any review article is reflected by the explicitness of its methods (i.e., transparency) and the soundness of the approach used. We refer those interested in the concepts of rigour and quality to the work of Templier and Paré (2015) which offers a detailed set of methodological guidelines for conducting and evaluating various types of review articles.

To conclude, our main objective in this chapter was to demystify the various types of literature reviews that are central to the continuous development of the eHealth field. It is our hope that our descriptive account will serve as a valuable source for those conducting, evaluating or using reviews in this important and growing domain.

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  • Cite this Page Paré G, Kitsiou S. Chapter 9 Methods for Literature Reviews. In: Lau F, Kuziemsky C, editors. Handbook of eHealth Evaluation: An Evidence-based Approach [Internet]. Victoria (BC): University of Victoria; 2017 Feb 27.
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    Literature Study Guides - SparkNotes Literature Conquering the classics, one book at a time. Our Top Study Guides Frankenstein Mary Shelley Macbeth William Shakespeare The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee Helpful Resources William Shakespeare's Life & Times How to Write Literary Analysis

  15. Literature

    Jan. 28, 2024, 4:21 AM ET (The Hindu) Literature a strong medium to unite society: CM literature, a body of written works. The name has traditionally been applied to those imaginative works of poetry and prose distinguished by the intentions of their authors and the perceived aesthetic excellence of their execution.

  16. Literature Reviews, Theoretical Frameworks, and Conceptual Frameworks

    A literature review should connect to the study question, guide the study methodology, and be central in the discussion by indicating how the analyzed data advances what is known in the field. A theoretical framework drives the question, guides the types of methods for data collection and analysis, informs the discussion of the findings, and ...

  17. What Is Literature and Why Do We Study It?

    Literary criticism—the formal study of literature—has ancient roots. From Aristotle's Poetics to ibn al Mu'tazz's Kitab al Badi, ancient and medieval scholars were just as curious as we are about what makes something literature. Is it the subject matter? The language? The imagery? The author's character? The formal elements such as rhyme and meter?

  18. Literary Studies

    Literary Studies is the study of written works of the imagination, of which poetry, drama and narrative fiction constitute today the most familiar types or genres. Most students and teachers of literature, however, see it as a more complex matter.

  19. The rise of a new paradigm of literary studies: The challenge of

    The significance of digital humanism in the study of world literature. As mentioned earlier, from the point of view of the humanities, or more specifically, of literary studies, we usually think of science and technology as having very little to do with literature and literary studies, let alone other areas of the humanities. ...

  20. Literature Study

    A literature study is a study in which you read selected text, such as a novel, short story, or poem and basically write a paper about it. Sometimes it deals with only one piece of literature...

  21. Why Study Literature?

    To study literature means looking deeply into a large body of written work and examining it as an art form. Of course, there are many different literary genres, or types of literature. At a liberal arts school, a literature program, a student would study these genres extensively and understand the historical and cultural context they represent.

  22. Ten Simple Rules for Writing a Literature Review

    Literature reviews are in great demand in most scientific fields. Their need stems from the ever-increasing output of scientific publications .For example, compared to 1991, in 2008 three, eight, and forty times more papers were indexed in Web of Science on malaria, obesity, and biodiversity, respectively .Given such mountains of papers, scientists cannot be expected to examine in detail every ...

  23. School refusal: mapping the literature by bibliometric analysis

    Data examined in this study was obtained from WoS and then analyzed bibliometrically. Although there is a wide variety of software for bibliometric analysis, VosViewer software is recommended because it allows the highest number of and type analyses in the literature (Van Eck et al., 2008). Therefore, within the scope of this study, a co ...

  24. AMEND: Literature Makes the World Go Round

    Writers and people who study good books rarely make a lot of money. But their literature is what makes the world go round. Anyone who passes through Yale's Ivy gates should understand the different kinds of intellects on the market. As someone who is mildly intelligent, I like to study the art of intelligence myself. First, there are ...

  25. Academic Entrepreneurship Ecosystems: Systematic Literature Review and

    This study brings important theoretical contributions to the existing literature. Firstly, this study led to a survey and mapping of the main investigations on EE and their relationship with the HEI. Secondly, this study strengthens the credibility of the AEE theoretical frameworks in lending support to the importance of analysing the specific ...

  26. Factors influencing the adoption of robotic technologies in academic

    The study has added valuable literature to the existing body of knowledge. It is the first systematic literature review on the factors influencing the adoption of robotic technologies in academic libraries. It has provided practical solutions in light of evidence-based data for the effective adoption of robotic technologies in academic libraries.

  27. Chapter 9 Methods for Literature Reviews

    Among other methods, literature reviews are essential for: (a) identifying what has been written on a subject or topic; (b) determining the extent to which a specific research area reveals any interpretable trends or patterns; (c) aggregating empirical findings related to a narrow research question to support evidence-based practice; (d) generat...