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Systematic Reviews for Business and Management: Home


This guide is aimed at supporting those undertaking a systematic review within the field of business, management, human resources and economics. This guide covers: 

  • Understanding the difference between a systematic review and a literature review;
  • Planning the search, where to search and how to develop a search strategy;
  • Key resources;
  • Creating a search strategy;
  • Managing your search results.

Systematic Reviews within Business and Management

What is a systematic review?

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)."

Characteristics of a systematic review (Higgins et al., 2019:xxiii) include:
  • A clearly stated set of objectives with pre-defined eligibility criteria for studies;
  • An explicit, reproducible methodology;
  • A systematic search that attempts to identity all studies that meet the eligibility criteria;
  • An assessment of the validity of the findings of the included studies, for example through the assessment of risk of bias; and
  • A systematic presentation, and synthesis, of the characteristics and findings of the included studies.

It is worthwhile noting that these reviews “should be undertaken by a team” (Higgins et al., 2019: 5) and “the time 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 Reviews vs Literature Reviews

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:

  • for identifying materials for potential inclusion;
  • for selecting individual materials;
  • for synthesizing the results in a table or a graph;
  • for making analysis of their contribution or value. Analysis may be thematic, chronological or conceptual.

Assessing Quality of Studies  Assessing studies individually and overall quality of evidence. Often does not consider study quality or potential biases in study design.


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