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Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) resources

What is a Literature Review?

SoTL inquiries, like any scholarship, require substantive engagement with related theoretical and empirical literature. This literature plays an important role in shaping research questions and study design. Later, this literature can also be helpful for interpreting results.

SoTL literature reviews often draw from several bodies of knowledge, including those related to a) the project’s central issue or question, b) the academic discipline, and c) teaching and learning more generally. Because of this, SoTL inquiries often take scholars into unfamiliar territory. This page offers a general overview of literature reviews, while the Find Articles, Find Journals, and Find Books section of the research guide provide guidance for locating literature relevant to SoTL.

Selected Titles on Literature Reviews

What is a Systematic Review?

A systematic literature review (SLRs; also known as systematic review or as systematic overview, evidence summary, integrative review, or research synthesis) is a summary of the research literature that is focused on a single question.

The systematic review process has been developed to minimize bias and ensure transparency. Methods should be adequately documented so that they can be replicated.

Key components of a systematic review include:

  • systematic and extensive searches to identify all the relevant published and unpublished literature
  • study selection according to predefined eligibility criteria
  • assessment of the risk of bias for included studies
  • presentation of the findings in an independent and impartial manner
  • discussion of the limitations of the evidence and of the review.

How Do SLRs Differ from Traditional Literature Reviews?

With traditional literature reviews (also known as narrative reviews or critical reviews), the goal is to discover what's already known about a topic and perhaps to identify areas where gaps in the research exist, which can lead to new studies in order to further the state of knowledge on the topic.

Traditional literature reviews rarely contain a comprehensive list of documents on a topic. The findings of literature reviews may be biased due to incomplete literature searching and/or to selective inclusion of documents in order to support an author's opinion.

SLRs, however, are frequently conducted in order to create or revise policy or to make a decision, and therefore an attempt is made to identify and assess all relevant literature on a topic, so that any action(s) taken will be based on the best available evidence.

How Can Librarians Help with SLRs?

Librarians can

  • recommend subscription research databases and sources for grey literature.
  • identify subject matter experts whom researchers could contact to learn about any in-progress research
  • help develop or provide feedback on researchers' search strategies,including appropriate inclusion/exclusion criteria
  • provide training on bibliographic management systems (e.g., RefWorks)ffor storing and organizing citations de-duping research results
  • assist researchers in setting up publication alerts or in conducting cited reference searching to find other documents on a topic
  • help researchers with "snowball searching," in which a given document's reference list is used to identify other relevant documents.

Contact your subject librarian.

Selected Library Resources


The following resources were used for this page:

Keeping Up With... Systematic Literature Reviews

Systematic Reviews: the process (Duke University)

Writing a Literature or Systematic review: A guide to writing a Systematic review (Australian Catholic University)

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