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Systematic Reviews for Business and Management: Planning the Search

Planning your Search

A key difference between a literature review and a systematic review is the importance of planning your search and developing a review protocol.  

When undertaking a systematic review you will need to decide, before you begin your search, your review question and search strategy.  A review protocol discusses your research problem and it is in your protocol you identify the research question, begin to formulate your search strategy and identify your criteria for what you are going to include in your review. 


Formulate your research question

The first of three stages identified by Tranfield et al. (1993) is planning the review.  The three phases of this stage are the identification of a need for a review, preparing a proposal for a review and the development of a review protocol. Their contention is that, for reviews in management, a protocol should contain a discussion of the research problem and its significance rather than produce a definitive research question. However, more recent guidance (Fischer and Block, 2018) recommends that authors carefully develop and clearly state their research question(s) in the introductory section. There are a number of frameworks have been developed to help formulate your question. These include: 

PESTEL Political, Economic, Social,Technological, Environmental and Legal Factors
SPICE Setting, Population or Perspective, Intervention, Comparison, Evaluation
ECLIPSE [management and service related issues Expectations, Client Group, Location, Impact, Professionals Involved, Service

Scoping Searches

When you begin developing your search protocol you will need to carry out scoping searches of the literature.   This allows you to identify the research problem and whether there have been systematic reviews already undertaken in your area of interest.  Carrying out scoping searches will also allow you to identify key words to use in your search strategy.  

Inclusion and Exclusion Criteria

For the inclusion and exclusion criteria you will need to consider the criteria that will determine whether a study will be included in your review.  This criteria will need to be explicit.  You could consider the following in developing your criteria:

  • Population/Sector
  • Geographic region 
  • Study design/intervention
  • Measured outcomes
  • Publication Dates
  • Language

Guides and Checklists

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