This guide is aimed at supporting those undertaking a systematic review within the field of business, management, human resources and economics. This guide covers:
A systematic review aims to identify as much of the research relating to a specific research question. Explicit search methods are used to identify research. Originally, developed within the field of medical and health sciences, systematic reviews are increasingly being produced within the field of business and management. The Cochrane Collaboration, a well-respected producer of systematic reviews within the field of medicine, provides a definition:
"A systematic review attempts to collate all empirical evidence that fits pre-specified eligibility criteria in order to answer a specific research question. It uses explicit, systematic methods that are selected with a view to minimizing bias, thus providing more reliable findings from which conclusions can be drawn and decisions made (Higgins et al., 2019: 4)."
It is worthwhile noting that these reviews “should be undertaken by a team” (Higgins et al., 2019: 5) and “the time required...is often more than two years” (Higgins et al., 2019:xxv). In business and management, you are likely to be completing a literature review as part of your undergraduate dissertation or postgraduate module and this literature review is likely to be undertaken in a systematic way rather than completing a systematic literature review.
Systematic and literature reviews are often confused. Though both provide provide a summary of the existing literature on a topic, there are significant differences between the two. Grant and Booth (2009) provided a comparison of 14 review types, from systematic to narrative with variants on these in-between. Analysis of the literature published in the decade since 2009 (Sutton et al., 2019) has identified seven family types. The table below provides an overview of some of the differences between the systematic and traditional review families:
|Systematic Reviews||Traditional Literature Reviews|
|Definition||Clearly defined and agreed methodology which is reproducible.||Summarizes research on a topic using subjective methods to identify and interpret studies. There is no agreed methodology for literature reviews. Methodology is not reproducible.|
|Purpose||Answer a research question. Eliminate bias.||Provide a summary of the literature on a topic|
|Question||Clearly defined question.||Can be on a general topic or a specific question|
|Search Approach||Attempts to find all existing published and unpublished literature. The search process is well-documented following formal guidance documentation and reported using established guidelines.||
Searches can be ad hoc and attempts have not been made to be fully comprehensive. Methods are not always explicit.
Involves some process:
|Assessing Quality of Studies||Assessing studies individually and overall quality of evidence.||Often does not consider study quality or potential biases in study design.|