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On being ‘systematic’ in literature reviews

  • Sebastian K. Boell
  • Dubravka Cecez-Kecmanovic
Chapter

Abstract

General guidelines for conducting literature reviews often do not address the question of literature searches and dealing with a potentially large number of identified sources. These issues are specifically addressed by so-called systematic literature reviews (SLR) that propose a strict protocol for the search and appraisal of literature. Moreover, SLR are claimed to be a ‘standardized method’ for literature reviews, that is, replicable, transparent, objective, unbiased, and rigorous, and thus superior to other approaches for conducting literature reviews. These are significant and consequential claims that — 2014; despite increasing adoption of SLR — 2014; remained largely unnoticed in the information systems (IS) literature. The objective of this debate is to draw attention of the IS community to SLR’s claims, to question their justification and reveal potential risks of their adoption. This is achieved by first examining the origins of SLR and the prescribed systematic literature review process and then by critically assessing their claims and implications. In this debate, we show that SLR are applicable and useful for a very specific kind of literature review, a meta study that identifies and summarizes evidence from earlier research. We also demonstrate that the claims that SLR provide superior quality are not justified. More importantly, we argue that SLR as a general approach to conducting literature reviews is highly questionable, concealing significant perils. The paper cautions that SLR could undermine critical engagement with literature and what it means to be scholarly in academic work.

Keywords

Systematic Literature Reviews SLR Conducting Literature Reviews Literature Review Narrative Literature Review Database Searches 

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Copyright information

© Journal of Information Technology (JIT) 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sebastian K. Boell
    • 1
  • Dubravka Cecez-Kecmanovic
    • 2
  1. 1.The University Sydney Business SchoolAustralia
  2. 2.Australian School of Business School of Information Systems and TechnologyUniversity of New South WalesAustralia

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