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How to do literature review based on your research objective

Hello, this is Cynthia from Think-team.

Nowadays, I have been working for more than 6 months ( I need to finish soon!!) to produce a direction of my research in one of the European Commission research projects that is involved, TIPPING+. This project aims to provide empirically grounded and robust knowledge of the critical concept of Social-Ecological Tipping Points (SETPs ) to contribute to a successful clean energy transition in coal and carbon-intensive regions (CCIRs) like Indonesia. There are multiple social dimensions that this project will look at: social, cultural, policy and governance, and economic dimensions. For Indonesia's case study, we focus on how the progressive clean energy transition in the electricity and household biogas could increase renewable uptake.

In the beginning, I was lost about where to start and how to conduct a literature review in such a multi-disciplinary context. Along my journey as a research assistant, I got used to commencing literature review with the focus of our objective and research questions. So, I started from there; however, since this is part of my PhD, I must do it in a standardized and proper way, rather than looking for a needle in a haystack, so I feel something is missing. I realised there are several approaches to conducting a literature review based on different articles I read. I found a research paper by Snyder (2019) that enlightened me on how to do a proper literature review based on the research objective.

In general, the paper explored three approaches: (i) systematic literature review (ii) semi-systematic review, and (iii) integrative review.

1) Systematic review

The systematic literature review has been mainly developed within medical science to generate systematic, transparent, and reproducible reviews. Many refer to this approach as the gold standard of review. This approach uses statistical methods to some extent, such as meta-analysis, to compare different patterns, relationships, or critics in different articles on the same topic. The general steps for systemic review include identifying, setting inclusion/exclusion criteria, screening, and assessing. However, this approach might not be suitable for the research that includes a multi-faceted topic.

2) Semi-systematic review

On the other hand, the semi-systematic approach allows more flexibility for the research covering different topics. Hence, it requires different strategies to understand all potentially relevant articles that have implications for the research focus. This approach is suitable for research topics studied differently in different research groups that hinder a full systematic review process. The general steps to conduct a semi-systematic review include identifying, analysing, and reporting patterns within the thematic research. To analyse the articles, the method of content analysis is often applied. This approach's outcomes can be patterns, and research traditions progressed over time within the selected field.

3) Integrative review

The last approach, the integrative review, is used for research to synthesize new theoretical frameworks and perspectives to emerge. The approach requires more creative data collection. Plus, the method applied in this approach should capture the perspectives and insights from different research fields to critically analyse and examine the main ideas and relationships of a research topic to serve the aforementioned research objective. However, there are no standardized steps for integrative review.

Perhaps some of you wonder which databases to look into. Many academic research databases can be used to collect myriad articles and manuscripts depending on the research topic. The commonly used databases for transdisciplinary research are Scopus, Web of Science, Google Scholar, ScienceDirect, and JSTOR. Some databases are built to focus on a certain topic, such as PubMed (for medicine and biology) and ERIC (for education-related literature). Most of the databases require you to have access from your institution. For instance, suppose you are a graduate student, you shall have access through your university. For my research topic, as it is transdisciplinary research, I used Scopus. Scopus has some analytical tools to demonstrate the pattern of the reviewed articles, such as analysing by year, locations, subject area, and many more, like the figures below.

Another tool that I found interesting is Connected Papers, a platform to visualize similar papers in the field to understand the trends, popular works, and dynamics of the field you're interested in (see figure below). You would have better orientation on how one paper can intersect with other articles over a certain period.

I hope this blog could be insightful, especially for early-stage researchers. Please look forward to the next blog! 😊

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Oktavianna Winda
Oktavianna Winda
2021년 2월 09일

This blog reminds me of my childhood dream to be a researcher. Thank you for sharing! I believe your tips will be useful for me in the future.

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