Literature review: a brief introduction

Literature review: a brief introduction

Whether to publish an empirical paper, a review paper, or to complete your graduate thesis a literature review is an essential and indispensable part of your journey. As a Ph.D. candidate, I have conducted literature reviews on several occasions, and it is not an easy job unless you have a clear methodology to follow. In this blog’s post, I present a brief introduction to what a literature review is, what are the objectives that it can fulfill, and what are the main types of literature reviews that a researcher can conduct.

What is a literature review?

A literature review is the result of assembling, organizing, and synthesizing past research on a specific topic. The papers that treat this topic are analyzed by the author(s), patterns are explored, the implications are discussed and an agenda for future research avenues is brought forward. This definition can vary from one type of review to another; however, it can still be useful as a general roadmap for literature reviews.

I really love the slogan of Google scholar, which stays “Stand on the shoulders of giants”. This phrase, which has been attributed to several scholars across history (like Priscian, Bernard of Chartres, and the most famous Isaac Newton1) illustrates how a literature review functions. You make progress and you see farther, only when you review what other researchers have discovered, what patterns they have depicted. You build on their knowledge, and you move further.
When conducting a literature review, not only you get to dive into the minds of pillar scholars in the field by reading their work, but also, you get to engage in their work and comment on it from your own personal understanding of the subject. When conducting a literature review, and after assembling the papers, you analyze them, explore similarities and tensions, and interpret them with your own point of view. A literature review is hence not a mechanical task, but rather an engaging and thought-provoking journey that can fulfill several aims.

Is it publishable?

A literature review can be a stand-alone type of scientific paper. And journals are more and more interested in publishing literature reviews, as this type of paper has a higher chance to get cited and gives credit to both the author(s) and the journal in which it is published.

Four goals and several types of literature reviews

The most famous type of literature review might be the systematic review; however, this is only one type of review, and there are several other types that you might want to consider before diving into your review. Below is a list of 9 types of literature reviews, and these reviews are categorized based on the overarching goal of the review (Paré, Trudel, Jaana, & Kitsiou, 2015)

Summarizing prior knowledgeData aggregation or integrationExplanationCritical Assessment of extend literature
1- Narrative reviews
2- Descriptive reviews
3- Scoping review
1- Meta-analysis
2- Quantitative systematic review
3- Umbrella review
1- Theoretical review
2- Realist review
1- Critical review

References and readings

For more insights on the types of literature reviews, I highly recommend the paper of Paré et al 2015, and that of Schryen et al 2020, and I have attached below the links to these respective papers

1- Paré, G., Trudel, M.-C., Jaana, M., & Kitsiou, S. (2015). Synthesizing information systems knowledge: A typology of literature reviews. Information & Management, 52(2), 183-199.

2- Schryen, G., Wagner, G., Benlian, A., & Paré, G. (2020). A Knowledge Development Perspective on Literature Reviews: Validation of a new Typology in the IS Field. Communications of the AIS, 46.


1- Standing on the shoulders of giants, Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Standing_on_the_shoulders_of_giants#cite_note-2

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