Five tips for developing useful literature summary tables for writing review articles

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Introduction

Literature reviews offer a critical synthesis of empirical and theoretical literature to assess the strength of evidence, develop guidelines for practice and policymaking, and identify areas for future research.1 It is often essential and usually the first task in any research endeavour, particularly in masters or doctoral level education. For effective data extraction and rigorous synthesis in reviews, the use of literature summary tables is of utmost importance. A literature summary table provides a synopsis of an included article. It succinctly presents its purpose, methods, findings and other relevant information pertinent to the review. The aim of developing these literature summary tables is to provide the reader with the information at one glance. Since there are multiple types of reviews (eg, systematic, integrative, scoping, critical and mixed methods) with distinct purposes and techniques,2 there could be various approaches for developing literature summary tables making it a complex task specialty for the novice researchers or reviewers. Here, we offer five tips for authors of the review articles, relevant to all types of reviews, for creating useful and relevant literature summary tables. We also provide examples from our published reviews to illustrate how useful literature summary tables can be developed and what sort of information should be provided.

Tip 1: provide detailed information about frameworks and methods

Literature summary tables are not only meant to provide an overview of basic information (authors, country, purpose and findings) about included articles, but they should also provide detailed information about the theoretical and conceptual frameworks and the methods used in the included article. Figure 1 provides an example of a literature summary table from a scoping review.3

Figure 1

Tabular literature summaries from a scoping review. Source: Rasheed et al.3

The provision of information about conceptual and theoretical frameworks and methods is useful for several …

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