Main content area

Making literature reviews more reliable through application of lessons from systematic reviews

Haddaway, N.R., Woodcock, P., Macura, B., Collins, A.
Conservation biology 2015 v.29 no.6 pp. 1596-1605
issues and policy, medicine, resource allocation, students, systematic review, wildlife management
Review articles can provide valuable summaries of the ever‐increasing volume of primary research in conservation biology. Where findings may influence important resource‐allocation decisions in policy or practice, there is a need for a high degree of reliability when reviewing evidence. However, traditional literature reviews are susceptible to a number of biases during the identification, selection, and synthesis of included studies (e.g., publication bias, selection bias, and vote counting). Systematic reviews, pioneered in medicine and translated into conservation in 2006, address these issues through a strict methodology that aims to maximize transparency, objectivity, and repeatability. Systematic reviews will always be the gold standard for reliable synthesis of evidence. However, traditional literature reviews remain popular and will continue to be valuable where systematic reviews are not feasible. Where traditional reviews are used, lessons can be taken from systematic reviews and applied to traditional reviews in order to increase their reliability. Certain key aspects of systematic review methods that can be used in a context‐specific manner in traditional reviews include focusing on mitigating bias; increasing transparency, consistency, and objectivity, and critically appraising the evidence and avoiding vote counting. In situations where conducting a full systematic review is not feasible, the proposed approach to reviewing evidence in a more systematic way can substantially improve the reliability of review findings, providing a time‐ and resource‐efficient means of maximizing the value of traditional reviews. These methods are aimed particularly at those conducting literature reviews where systematic review is not feasible, for example, for graduate students, single reviewers, or small organizations.