Writing Integrative Reviews of the Literature: Methods and Purposes

Writing Integrative Reviews of the Literature: Methods and Purposes

Richard J. Torraco (Department of Educational Administration, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/IJAVET.2016070106
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Abstract

This article discusses the integrative review of the literature as a distinctive form of research that uses existing literature to create new knowledge. As an expansion and update of a previously published article on this topic, it acknowledges the growth and appeal of this form of research to scholars, it identifies the main components of the integrative literature review, and summarizes guidelines for organizing and writing integrative literature reviews. Not addressed elsewhere in the literature, this article describes five reasons and purposes for writing literature reviews and discusses these purposes in relation to the methods for writing literature reviews. The article concludes that aligning the integrative literature review's methods with its purpose provides unity and coherence to the review.
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Literature Reviews: What? Where? And Why Are They Written?

The integrative literature review is a distinctive form of research that generates new knowledge about a topic by reviewing, critiquing, and synthesizing representative literature on a topic in an integrated way such that new frameworks and perspectives on the topic are generated.

Literature reviews are an appealing form of research to scholars. Authors in many disciplines follow the convention of citing sources only since the most recent systematic literature review on the topic was published. Consequently, literature reviews are among the most frequently cited type of research article across disciplinary fields (Annual Reviews, 2016). In addition, some publishers maintain that individual review articles and review series are highly used and cited due to the relatively few integrative literature reviews that appear each year and the many articles that cite them (Sage Publications, 2012). Literature reviews are ubiquitous and appear in a variety of publication venues. In addition to being published as standalone articles, many academic disciplines have journals devoted to theoretical/conceptual research that include literature reviews within their scope of publication or are devoted exclusively to publishing literature reviews. Even publishers devote their business to literature reviews. For example, Annual Reviews (2016) is a non-profit publisher of review journals for forty-six specific disciplines in science and social science that publishes review articles in these disciplines. Finally, many scholarly journals that publish primary research also publish review articles and, consequently, contribute to this expansive, diverse form of published research.

Why write a literature review? Why is a literature review a better research methodology to study a problem than other forms of research? These questions should be answered early for readers so they understand why a literature review is the research method of choice to address the problem. Literature reviews often are conducted on dynamic topics that experience rapid growth in literature and that have not benefited from a comprehensive review and update during an extended period. Another common catalyst for literature reviews is a discrepancy between the literature and observations about the issue which are not addressed in the literature. A discussion of reasons and purposes for writing literature reviews is presented next.

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