Critical Systematic Review

Critical Systematic Review

Jennifer M. Wilby (Hull University Business School, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-356-2.ch054
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This chapter discusses the process of systematic review and the critique of the design of such processes and their research questions and contexts, whether in the natural or social science arenas. This work is part of an on-going research program to develop a process of critical systematic review applicable for addressing issues arising in complex systems, such as those found in health and health-related disciplines. The methodology proposed in this chapter for critical systematic review extends the remit of systematic review, moving beyond extensive literature searching, the application of predetermined inclusion and exclusion criteria to the retrieved literature, quality assessment, evaluation, synthesis, and review of the data, to a process that is self- and process-critical and reflective, and iterative in that critique.
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Systematic Review

Systematic reviews are a recent development in the field of medical research, employing a more rigorous, and usually quantitative, approach to the meta-analysis of primary data. This process of review is now found in many areas of social sciences research including education, psychology, criminology, and sociology. A systematic review addresses the need for additional rigorous investigation where a collection of primary data and studies may offer different conclusions from the same type of intervention, thereby causing uncertainty in decision-making and possible allegations of biased analysis, interpretation and reporting of results.

In Figure 1, it can be seen that the processes of literature review and meta-analysis are an integral part of a systematic review. However these research activities can stand alone or be integral to many other forms of research practices. In a systematic review they are components of the process, along with the other stages of a systematic review described in the next section. Therefore in Figure 1, they are shown as components of the systematic review process, while acknowledging that each of those components could stand alone in other research practice.

Figure 1.

The systematic review process


Systematic reviews identify, appraise and synthesize research evidence from individual studies and are therefore valuable sources of information. Systematic reviews differ from other types of review in that they follow a strict protocol to ensure that as much of the relevant research base as possible has been considered and that the original studies have been appraised and synthesized in a valid way. These methods minimize the risk of bias and are transparent, thus enabling replication. (Centre for Reviews and Dissemination, 2005)

According to Mulrow (1995) systematic reviews are beneficial for the following reasons:

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