Systematic Literature Review

‘Literature review’ can refer to a portion of a research article in which the author(s) describe(s) or summarizes a body of literature which is relevant to their article. ‘Literature review’ can also refer to a methodological approach in which a selection of existing literature is collected and analyzed in order to answer a specific question. One approach to doing this type of literature review is called a ‘systematic literature review’ (SLR).

When conducting an SLR, the researcher creates a set of rules or guidelines prior to beginning the review. These rules determine the characteristics of the literature to be included and the steps to be followed during the research process. Creating these rules helps the researcher by narrowing down the focus of their project and the scope of the literature to be included, and they aid in making the research methodology transparent and replicable.

There are many different ways that an SLR can be used in socio-legal research. For example, an SLR can be used to show the impact of a certain law or policy (Loong e.a. 2019), uncover patterns across literature (e.g. perpetrator characteristics) (Alleyne & Parfitt 2017), outline crime prevention strategies that are currently in place (Gorden & Buchanan 2013), describe to what extent a problem is understood or researched (Krieger 2013), point out the gaps in the current research (Urinboyev e.a. 2016), or identify potential areas for future research. Various types of documents may be included in an SLR such as court transcripts, academic literature, news articles, NGO reports or government documents.

The first step for starting your SLR is creating a research journal in which you will write down your SLR rules and keep track of your daily activities. This will help you keep a timeline of your project, keep track of your decision making process, and maintain the transparency and replicability of your research. The next step is determining your research question. When you have your research question, you can create the inclusion and exclusion criteria or the characteristics that literature must or must not have to be included in your SLR. The key question is “what kind of information is needed to answer the research question?” It is necessary to explain why the criteria were selected. After this, you can begin searching for and collecting literature which meets your inclusion criteria. Different databases and sources of literature (e.g. academic journals or newspapers) will yield different search results, so it may be helpful to do trial searches to see which sources provide the most relevant literature for your project. Once you have collected all of your literature, you can begin reading and analyzing the literature.

There are various research tools that can aid you in conducting your SLR such as qualitative data analysis software (e.g. ATLAS.ti) or reference manager software (e.g. Mendeley). Determine which programs to use based on your personal preference and your research project.