Reviews of Recent Research Literature – 1

Online Information Review

ISSN: 1468-4527

Article publication date: 27 September 2011



Gorman, G.E. (2011), "Reviews of Recent Research Literature – 1", Online Information Review, Vol. 35 No. 5.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Reviews of Recent Research Literature – 1

Article Type: Reviews of Recent Research Literature – 1: Comparative book review From: Online Information Review, Volume 35, Issue 5

The literature of research, including theory, method and methodology, has become a substantial subset of the publishing industry in its traditional, electronic and hybrid forms. In this occasional series of reviews we focus on recent titles that address the many issues of research. The intention is to inform both established researchers and students of research. The reviewer’s assessment of each title is indicated by the number of stars (five being the highest recommendation).

Doing Your Literature Review: Traditional and Systematic Techniques,Jill K. Jesson with Lydia Matheson and Fiona M. Lacey,Sage Publications,London,2010,175 pp.,price not reported (soft cover),ISBN 978184860,Assessment: * * * *

How to Read a Paper: The Basics of Evidence-based Medicine (4th ed.),Trisha Greenhalgh,Wiley-Blackwell/BMJ Books,Oxford,2010,price not reported (soft cover),ISBN 9781444334364,Assessment: * * *

The Critical Assessment of Research: Traditional and New Methods of Evaluation,Alan Bailin and Ann Grafstein,Chandos Information Professional Series,Chandos Publishing,Witney,2010,121 pp.,price not reported (soft cover),ISBN 9781843345435,Assessment: 0 stars,

Keywords: Research methods, Library and information, Research, Literature review, Assessment

In Doing Your Literature Review authors Jesson, Matheson and Lacey add their opinions to the growing body of literature on the reviewing process. While the current trend is for systematic reviews, the authors seek to cover both systematic and what they call “traditional” reviews, maintaining that “at the beginning of their research many students have not yet developed sufficient working knowledge of their topic and are therefore not ready to undertake a systematic review”. This balance is welcome, because systematic reviews are not always appropriate – in the qualitative paradigm, for example, “traditional” (or scoping, integrative, critical) reviews are more appropriate in that they allow the researcher to develop a viewpoint through critique of the literature to support a particular approach to the topic under investigation.

The audience for this book is research students at the master’s level, but in my experience it is equally suited for PhD candidates, who frequently have little idea of how to create a review of any type rather than purely descriptive. It is frustrating, but a sign of the times, that postgraduates come to us virtually research illiterate, and in particular unskilled in reviewing and critiquing – one result, perhaps, of e-generation culture in which any information is “good enough”.

The audience is reflected in the structure and content of the work. Part 1 (“Getting Information”) has chapters addressing literature reviews, definitions, types, etc. in general; searching for information; reading skills; and writing. While Part 1 is a kind of vade mecum in which the authors try to bring poorly educated undergraduates up to an acceptable level as neophyte students of research, Part 2 (“Using Information”) has more of the literature review content expected in a title such as this. Three chapters address, in turn, traditional reviews, systematic reviews and meta-analyses as three principal types of review. The remaining two chapters discuss writing, referencing and plagiarism. This is the core of the book, as the authors clearly articulate the differences among various types of review, indicating not only strengths and weaknesses but also techniques that lead to a well-crafted, focused and informative review of the literature.

Tasks, tips, examples, figures and summaries in each chapter give the book a “self-guided” feel appropriate in a textbook, and the language is rarely arcane. Four useful appendices and a fine index complete the work. Overall, this is a sound guide for the absolute neophyte in how to create usable literature reviews. Part 2 is especially recommended as a good discussion of the ways and means of writing reviews. The work is useful for students at most levels, and for those who teach research methods and want a clear guide to literature reviews for their reading lists.

While Jesson, Matheson and Lacey devote one chapter to “reading skills” in their book, Greenhalgh gives us the “full monty” in her contribution, How to Read a Paper: The Basics of Evidence-based Medicine. To some extent forget the “evidence-based medicine” tag; while some chapters are specific to medical research, many others have generic value for any field of research. This is a work with some chapters for anyone who reads and needs to assess published research.

(3) “What is this paper about?”(4) “Assessing methodological quality.”(5) “Statistics for the non-statistician.”(9) “Papers that summarise other papers.”(12) “Papers that go beyond numbers.”(13) “Papers that report questionnaire research.”

Those chapters that should attract a wide readership include the following:In addition Appendix 1 is a chapter-by-chapter summary what to look for in appraising each type of paper, chapter-by-chapter. This is a useful supplement that will aid anyone new to the assessment game. But the foregoing list also means that more than half of the chapters have value only for medical researchers, which is partly true – a clever, lateral thinker would be able to draw something from, for example, chapter 7 on “Papers that report trials of complex interventions”.

Nevertheless, the six chapters deemed to have broad application are mines of sensible, practical information that offer a no-nonsense guide to evaluating various aspects of research papers. Of particular value in my view are chapters 4, 5 and 12. In chapter 4, as an example, Greenhalgh highlights originality, design, bias and assessment of results – all key points to address when evaluating methodological sections of papers. In chapter 12 she first discusses what qualitative research is and then presents a sound series of features that should be questioned: selection of setting and subjects, the researcher’s perspective, data collection and data analysis methods, credibility of results, conclusions and replicability. This is a lucid and pointed treatment of evaluating qualitative research.

Each chapter includes useful tables and shaded “boxes”, though the need for differences in presentation escapes me. Chapters include excellent bibliographies, and the indexing is thorough. The chapters are also light-hearted enough from time to time to remove the aura of pretension that surrounds so much research and so many researchers. I particularly like this comment on the use of software for qualitative data analysis:

Whilst the sentence “data were analysed using NVivo” might appear impressive, the garbage in, garbage out (GIGO) rule often applies. Excellent qualitative data analysis can occur using the very large dining room table (VLDRT) method, where printouts of (say) interviews are marked up with felt pens …

Such a commonsense approach to the evaluation of research papers is most welcome. Greenhalgh is recommended for those chapters that have broad application in research evaluation.

While Greenhalgh’s book has an easily determined purpose and succeeds in achieving it, the same cannot be said of Bailin and Grafstein’s The Critical Assessment of Research. The authors maintain that their book is for those “[…] who read about research but are not experts in the field”. They also state that we all need to know what to look for when research is reported in whatever medium – newspapers, television, etc. Accordingly, they seek to present “[…] basic concepts that can be used for assessing the quality of research […] ”.

This is an admirable intention, but unfortunately “talking the talk” does not translate into “walking the walk” in this case. Early chapters discuss what the authors call “the gold standard” of evaluation – peer review, publisher and author reputation, but in a manner reminiscent of how librarians select materials for collections rather than how scholars determine the credibility of published research, and there is an enormous difference between the two.

Chapters 3-5 then consist of a series of case studies intended to illuminate specific facets of research: sponsorship and funding, research paradigms and the dissemination of research. While some of the cases are interesting and some boringly predictable (feminist research), the authors fail to capitalise in any coherent or systematic way on what the cases are meant to exemplify. Their introductory comments are superficial, and other comments within the cases so obscure as to frustrate rather than illuminate.

Interestingly, the book’s subtitle, which in part includes “new methods of evaluation”, receives only passing attention – the last chapter. And this attention is more a librarian’s guide to where to look for literature (books, articles, the web, etc.) rather than a new and more rigorous approach to research assessment. A pity, because something purportedly “better” and more robust than peer review would make a most interesting read. There is no need to spend time reading or referring to this book.

G.E. GormanUniversity of Malaya, Malaysia