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Literature Review vs Research Paper: What’s the Difference?
by Antony W
January 8, 2023
This is a complete student’s guide to understanding literature review vs research paper.
We’ll teach you what they’re, explain why they’re important, state the difference between the two, and link you to our comprehensive guide on how to write them.
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Writing a literature review for a thesis, a research paper, or as a standalone assignment takes time. Much of your time will go into research, not to mention you have other assignments to complete.
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What is a Literature Review?
A literature review is a secondary source of information that provides an overview of existing knowledge, which you can use to identify gaps or flaws in existing research. In literature review writing, students have to find and read existing publications such as journal articles, analyze the information, and then state their findings.
You’ll write a literature review to demonstrate your understanding on the topic, show gaps in existing research, and develop an effective methodology and a theoretical framework for your research project.
Your instructor may ask you to write a literature review as a standalone assignment. Even if that’s the case, the rules for writing a review paper don’t change.
In other words, you’ll still focus on evaluating the current research and find gaps around the topic.
Types of Literature Reviews
There are three types of review papers and they’re a follows:
In meta-analysis review paper, you combine and compare answers from already published studies on a given subject.
2. Narrative Review
A narrative review paper looks into existing information or research already conducted on a given topic.
3. Systematic Review
You need to do three things if asked to write a systematic review paper.
First, read and understand the question asked. Second, look into research already conducted on the topic. Third, search for the answer to the question from the established research you just read.
What’s a Research Paper?
A research paper is an assignment in which you present your own argument, evaluation, or interpretation of an issue based on independent research.
In a research paper project, you’ll draw some conclusions from what experts have already done, find gaps in their studies, and then draw your own conclusions.
While a research paper is like an academic essay, it tends to be longer and more detailed.
Since they require extended research and attention to details, research papers can take a lot of time to write.
If well researched, your research paper can demonstrate your knowledge about a topic, your ability to engage with multiple sources, and your willingness to contribute original thoughts to an ongoing debate.
Types of Research Papers
There are two types of research papers and they’re as follows:
1. Analytical Research Papers
Similar to analytical essay , and usually in the form of a question, an analytical research paper looks at an issue from a neutral point and gives a clear analysis of the issue.
Your goal is to make the reader understand both sides of the issue in question and leave it to them to decide what side of the analysis to accept.
Unlike an argumentative research paper, an analytical research paper doesn’t include counterarguments. And you can only draw your conclusion based on the information stretched out all through the analysis.
2. Argumentative Research Papers
In an argumentative research paper, you state the subject under study, look into both sides of an issue, pick a stance, and then use solid evidence and objective reasons to defend your position.
In argumentative writing, your goal isn’t to persuade your audience to take an action.
Rather, it’s to convince them that your position on the research question is more accurate than the opposing point of views.
Regardless of the type of research paper that you write, you’ll have to follow the standard outline for the assignment to be acceptable for review and marking.
Also, all research paper, regardless of the research question under investigation must include a literature review.
Literature Review vs Research Paper
The table below shows the differences between a literature review (review paper) and a research paper.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. is there a literature review in a research paper.
A research paper assignment must include a literature review immediately after the introduction chapter.
The chapter is significant because your research work would otherwise be incomplete without knowledge of existing literature.
2. How Many Literature Review Should Be in Research Paper?
Your research paper should have only one literature review. Make sure you write the review based on the instructions from your teacher.
Before you start, check the required length, number of sources to summarize, and the format to use. Doing so will help you score top grades for the assignment.
3. What is the Difference Between Research and Literature?
Whereas literature focuses on gathering, reading, and summarizing information on already established studies, original research involves coming up with new concepts, theories, and ideas that might fill existing gaps in the available literature.
4. How Long is a Literature Review?
How long a literature review should be will depend on several factors, including the level of education, the length of the assignment, the target audience, and the purpose of the review.
For example, a 150-page dissertation can have a literature review of 40 pages on average.
Make sure you talk to your instructor to determine the required length of the assignment.
5. How Does a Literature Review Look Like?
Your literature review shouldn’t be a focus on original research or new information. Rather, it should give a clear overview of the already existing work on the selected topic.
The information to review can come from various sources, including scholarly journal articles , government reports, credible websites, and academic-based books.
About the author
Antony W is a professional writer and coach at Help for Assessment. He spends countless hours every day researching and writing great content filled with expert advice on how to write engaging essays, research papers, and assignments.
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A literature review is a document or section of a document that collects key sources on a topic and discusses those sources in conversation with each other (also called synthesis ). The lit review is an important genre in many disciplines, not just literature (i.e., the study of works of literature such as novels and plays). When we say “literature review” or refer to “the literature,” we are talking about the research ( scholarship ) in a given field. You will often see the terms “the research,” “the scholarship,” and “the literature” used mostly interchangeably.
Where, when, and why would I write a lit review?
There are a number of different situations where you might write a literature review, each with slightly different expectations; different disciplines, too, have field-specific expectations for what a literature review is and does. For instance, in the humanities, authors might include more overt argumentation and interpretation of source material in their literature reviews, whereas in the sciences, authors are more likely to report study designs and results in their literature reviews; these differences reflect these disciplines’ purposes and conventions in scholarship. You should always look at examples from your own discipline and talk to professors or mentors in your field to be sure you understand your discipline’s conventions, for literature reviews as well as for any other genre.
A literature review can be a part of a research paper or scholarly article, usually falling after the introduction and before the research methods sections. In these cases, the lit review just needs to cover scholarship that is important to the issue you are writing about; sometimes it will also cover key sources that informed your research methodology.
Lit reviews can also be standalone pieces, either as assignments in a class or as publications. In a class, a lit review may be assigned to help students familiarize themselves with a topic and with scholarship in their field, get an idea of the other researchers working on the topic they’re interested in, find gaps in existing research in order to propose new projects, and/or develop a theoretical framework and methodology for later research. As a publication, a lit review usually is meant to help make other scholars’ lives easier by collecting and summarizing, synthesizing, and analyzing existing research on a topic. This can be especially helpful for students or scholars getting into a new research area, or for directing an entire community of scholars toward questions that have not yet been answered.
What are the parts of a lit review?
Most lit reviews use a basic introduction-body-conclusion structure; if your lit review is part of a larger paper, the introduction and conclusion pieces may be just a few sentences while you focus most of your attention on the body. If your lit review is a standalone piece, the introduction and conclusion take up more space and give you a place to discuss your goals, research methods, and conclusions separately from where you discuss the literature itself.
- An introductory paragraph that explains what your working topic and thesis is
- A forecast of key topics or texts that will appear in the review
- Potentially, a description of how you found sources and how you analyzed them for inclusion and discussion in the review (more often found in published, standalone literature reviews than in lit review sections in an article or research paper)
- Summarize and synthesize: Give an overview of the main points of each source and combine them into a coherent whole
- Analyze and interpret: Don’t just paraphrase other researchers – add your own interpretations where possible, discussing the significance of findings in relation to the literature as a whole
- Critically Evaluate: Mention the strengths and weaknesses of your sources
- Write in well-structured paragraphs: Use transition words and topic sentence to draw connections, comparisons, and contrasts.
- Summarize the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasize their significance
- Connect it back to your primary research question
How should I organize my lit review?
Lit reviews can take many different organizational patterns depending on what you are trying to accomplish with the review. Here are some examples:
- Chronological : The simplest approach is to trace the development of the topic over time, which helps familiarize the audience with the topic (for instance if you are introducing something that is not commonly known in your field). If you choose this strategy, be careful to avoid simply listing and summarizing sources in order. Try to analyze the patterns, turning points, and key debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred (as mentioned previously, this may not be appropriate in your discipline — check with a teacher or mentor if you’re unsure).
- Thematic : If you have found some recurring central themes that you will continue working with throughout your piece, you can organize your literature review into subsections that address different aspects of the topic. For example, if you are reviewing literature about women and religion, key themes can include the role of women in churches and the religious attitude towards women.
- Qualitative versus quantitative research
- Empirical versus theoretical scholarship
- Divide the research by sociological, historical, or cultural sources
- Theoretical : In many humanities articles, the literature review is the foundation for the theoretical framework. You can use it to discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts. You can argue for the relevance of a specific theoretical approach or combine various theorical concepts to create a framework for your research.
What are some strategies or tips I can use while writing my lit review?
Any lit review is only as good as the research it discusses; make sure your sources are well-chosen and your research is thorough. Don’t be afraid to do more research if you discover a new thread as you’re writing. More info on the research process is available in our "Conducting Research" resources .
As you’re doing your research, create an annotated bibliography ( see our page on the this type of document ). Much of the information used in an annotated bibliography can be used also in a literature review, so you’ll be not only partially drafting your lit review as you research, but also developing your sense of the larger conversation going on among scholars, professionals, and any other stakeholders in your topic.
Usually you will need to synthesize research rather than just summarizing it. This means drawing connections between sources to create a picture of the scholarly conversation on a topic over time. Many student writers struggle to synthesize because they feel they don’t have anything to add to the scholars they are citing; here are some strategies to help you:
- It often helps to remember that the point of these kinds of syntheses is to show your readers how you understand your research, to help them read the rest of your paper.
- Writing teachers often say synthesis is like hosting a dinner party: imagine all your sources are together in a room, discussing your topic. What are they saying to each other?
- Look at the in-text citations in each paragraph. Are you citing just one source for each paragraph? This usually indicates summary only. When you have multiple sources cited in a paragraph, you are more likely to be synthesizing them (not always, but often
- Read more about synthesis here.
The most interesting literature reviews are often written as arguments (again, as mentioned at the beginning of the page, this is discipline-specific and doesn’t work for all situations). Often, the literature review is where you can establish your research as filling a particular gap or as relevant in a particular way. You have some chance to do this in your introduction in an article, but the literature review section gives a more extended opportunity to establish the conversation in the way you would like your readers to see it. You can choose the intellectual lineage you would like to be part of and whose definitions matter most to your thinking (mostly humanities-specific, but this goes for sciences as well). In addressing these points, you argue for your place in the conversation, which tends to make the lit review more compelling than a simple reporting of other sources.
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- How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates
How to Write a Literature Review | Guide, Examples, & Templates
Published on January 2, 2023 by Shona McCombes . Revised on September 11, 2023.
What is a literature review? A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources on a specific topic. It provides an overview of current knowledge, allowing you to identify relevant theories, methods, and gaps in the existing research that you can later apply to your paper, thesis, or dissertation topic .
There are five key steps to writing a literature review:
- Search for relevant literature
- Evaluate sources
- Identify themes, debates, and gaps
- Outline the structure
- Write your literature review
A good literature review doesn’t just summarize sources—it analyzes, synthesizes , and critically evaluates to give a clear picture of the state of knowledge on the subject.
Table of contents
What is the purpose of a literature review, examples of literature reviews, step 1 – search for relevant literature, step 2 – evaluate and select sources, step 3 – identify themes, debates, and gaps, step 4 – outline your literature review’s structure, step 5 – write your literature review, free lecture slides, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions, introduction.
- Quick Run-through
- Step 1 & 2
When you write a thesis , dissertation , or research paper , you will likely have to conduct a literature review to situate your research within existing knowledge. The literature review gives you a chance to:
- Demonstrate your familiarity with the topic and its scholarly context
- Develop a theoretical framework and methodology for your research
- Position your work in relation to other researchers and theorists
- Show how your research addresses a gap or contributes to a debate
- Evaluate the current state of research and demonstrate your knowledge of the scholarly debates around your topic.
Writing literature reviews is a particularly important skill if you want to apply for graduate school or pursue a career in research. We’ve written a step-by-step guide that you can follow below.
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See an example
Writing literature reviews can be quite challenging! A good starting point could be to look at some examples, depending on what kind of literature review you’d like to write.
- Example literature review #1: “Why Do People Migrate? A Review of the Theoretical Literature” ( Theoretical literature review about the development of economic migration theory from the 1950s to today.)
- Example literature review #2: “Literature review as a research methodology: An overview and guidelines” ( Methodological literature review about interdisciplinary knowledge acquisition and production.)
- Example literature review #3: “The Use of Technology in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Thematic literature review about the effects of technology on language acquisition.)
- Example literature review #4: “Learners’ Listening Comprehension Difficulties in English Language Learning: A Literature Review” ( Chronological literature review about how the concept of listening skills has changed over time.)
You can also check out our templates with literature review examples and sample outlines at the links below.
Download Word doc Download Google doc
Before you begin searching for literature, you need a clearly defined topic .
If you are writing the literature review section of a dissertation or research paper, you will search for literature related to your research problem and questions .
Make a list of keywords
Start by creating a list of keywords related to your research question. Include each of the key concepts or variables you’re interested in, and list any synonyms and related terms. You can add to this list as you discover new keywords in the process of your literature search.
- Social media, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, TikTok
- Body image, self-perception, self-esteem, mental health
- Generation Z, teenagers, adolescents, youth
Search for relevant sources
Use your keywords to begin searching for sources. Some useful databases to search for journals and articles include:
- Your university’s library catalogue
- Google Scholar
- Project Muse (humanities and social sciences)
- Medline (life sciences and biomedicine)
- EconLit (economics)
- Inspec (physics, engineering and computer science)
You can also use boolean operators to help narrow down your search.
Make sure to read the abstract to find out whether an article is relevant to your question. When you find a useful book or article, you can check the bibliography to find other relevant sources.
You likely won’t be able to read absolutely everything that has been written on your topic, so it will be necessary to evaluate which sources are most relevant to your research question.
For each publication, ask yourself:
- What question or problem is the author addressing?
- What are the key concepts and how are they defined?
- What are the key theories, models, and methods?
- Does the research use established frameworks or take an innovative approach?
- What are the results and conclusions of the study?
- How does the publication relate to other literature in the field? Does it confirm, add to, or challenge established knowledge?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of the research?
Make sure the sources you use are credible , and make sure you read any landmark studies and major theories in your field of research.
You can use our template to summarize and evaluate sources you’re thinking about using. Click on either button below to download.
Take notes and cite your sources
As you read, you should also begin the writing process. Take notes that you can later incorporate into the text of your literature review.
It is important to keep track of your sources with citations to avoid plagiarism . It can be helpful to make an annotated bibliography , where you compile full citation information and write a paragraph of summary and analysis for each source. This helps you remember what you read and saves time later in the process.
Prevent plagiarism. Run a free check.
To begin organizing your literature review’s argument and structure, be sure you understand the connections and relationships between the sources you’ve read. Based on your reading and notes, you can look for:
- Trends and patterns (in theory, method or results): do certain approaches become more or less popular over time?
- Themes: what questions or concepts recur across the literature?
- Debates, conflicts and contradictions: where do sources disagree?
- Pivotal publications: are there any influential theories or studies that changed the direction of the field?
- Gaps: what is missing from the literature? Are there weaknesses that need to be addressed?
This step will help you work out the structure of your literature review and (if applicable) show how your own research will contribute to existing knowledge.
- Most research has focused on young women.
- There is an increasing interest in the visual aspects of social media.
- But there is still a lack of robust research on highly visual platforms like Instagram and Snapchat—this is a gap that you could address in your own research.
There are various approaches to organizing the body of a literature review. Depending on the length of your literature review, you can combine several of these strategies (for example, your overall structure might be thematic, but each theme is discussed chronologically).
The simplest approach is to trace the development of the topic over time. However, if you choose this strategy, be careful to avoid simply listing and summarizing sources in order.
Try to analyze patterns, turning points and key debates that have shaped the direction of the field. Give your interpretation of how and why certain developments occurred.
If you have found some recurring central themes, you can organize your literature review into subsections that address different aspects of the topic.
For example, if you are reviewing literature about inequalities in migrant health outcomes, key themes might include healthcare policy, language barriers, cultural attitudes, legal status, and economic access.
If you draw your sources from different disciplines or fields that use a variety of research methods , you might want to compare the results and conclusions that emerge from different approaches. For example:
- Look at what results have emerged in qualitative versus quantitative research
- Discuss how the topic has been approached by empirical versus theoretical scholarship
- Divide the literature into sociological, historical, and cultural sources
A literature review is often the foundation for a theoretical framework . You can use it to discuss various theories, models, and definitions of key concepts.
You might argue for the relevance of a specific theoretical approach, or combine various theoretical concepts to create a framework for your research.
Like any other academic text , your literature review should have an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion . What you include in each depends on the objective of your literature review.
The introduction should clearly establish the focus and purpose of the literature review.
Depending on the length of your literature review, you might want to divide the body into subsections. You can use a subheading for each theme, time period, or methodological approach.
As you write, you can follow these tips:
- Summarize and synthesize: give an overview of the main points of each source and combine them into a coherent whole
- Analyze and interpret: don’t just paraphrase other researchers — add your own interpretations where possible, discussing the significance of findings in relation to the literature as a whole
- Critically evaluate: mention the strengths and weaknesses of your sources
- Write in well-structured paragraphs: use transition words and topic sentences to draw connections, comparisons and contrasts
In the conclusion, you should summarize the key findings you have taken from the literature and emphasize their significance.
When you’ve finished writing and revising your literature review, don’t forget to proofread thoroughly before submitting. Not a language expert? Check out Scribbr’s professional proofreading services !
This article has been adapted into lecture slides that you can use to teach your students about writing a literature review.
Scribbr slides are free to use, customize, and distribute for educational purposes.
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If you want to know more about the research process , methodology , research bias , or statistics , make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples.
- Sampling methods
- Simple random sampling
- Stratified sampling
- Cluster sampling
- Likert scales
- Null hypothesis
- Statistical power
- Probability distribution
- Effect size
- Poisson distribution
- Optimism bias
- Cognitive bias
- Implicit bias
- Hawthorne effect
- Anchoring bias
- Explicit bias
A literature review is a survey of scholarly sources (such as books, journal articles, and theses) related to a specific topic or research question .
It is often written as part of a thesis, dissertation , or research paper , in order to situate your work in relation to existing knowledge.
There are several reasons to conduct a literature review at the beginning of a research project:
- To familiarize yourself with the current state of knowledge on your topic
- To ensure that you’re not just repeating what others have already done
- To identify gaps in knowledge and unresolved problems that your research can address
- To develop your theoretical framework and methodology
- To provide an overview of the key findings and debates on the topic
Writing the literature review shows your reader how your work relates to existing research and what new insights it will contribute.
The literature review usually comes near the beginning of your thesis or dissertation . After the introduction , it grounds your research in a scholarly field and leads directly to your theoretical framework or methodology .
A literature review is a survey of credible sources on a topic, often used in dissertations , theses, and research papers . Literature reviews give an overview of knowledge on a subject, helping you identify relevant theories and methods, as well as gaps in existing research. Literature reviews are set up similarly to other academic texts , with an introduction , a main body, and a conclusion .
An annotated bibliography is a list of source references that has a short description (called an annotation ) for each of the sources. It is often assigned as part of the research process for a paper .
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How to Write a Literature Review
- What is a literature review
How is a literature review different from a research paper?
- What should I do before starting my literature review?
- What type of literature review should I write and how should I organize it?
- What should I be aware of while writing the literature review?
- For more information on Literature Reviews
- More Research Help
The purpose of an academic research paper is to develop a new argument. The literature review is one part of a research paper. In a research paper, you use the literature review as a foundation and as support for the new insight that you contribute. The focus of a literature review, however, is to summarize and analyze the arguments and ideas of others without adding new contributions.
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What this handout is about.
This handout will explain what literature reviews are and offer insights into the form and construction of literature reviews in the humanities, social sciences, and sciences.
OK. You’ve got to write a literature review. You dust off a novel and a book of poetry, settle down in your chair, and get ready to issue a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” as you leaf through the pages. “Literature review” done. Right?
Wrong! The “literature” of a literature review refers to any collection of materials on a topic, not necessarily the great literary texts of the world. “Literature” could be anything from a set of government pamphlets on British colonial methods in Africa to scholarly articles on the treatment of a torn ACL. And a review does not necessarily mean that your reader wants you to give your personal opinion on whether or not you liked these sources.
What is a literature review, then?
A literature review discusses published information in a particular subject area, and sometimes information in a particular subject area within a certain time period.
A literature review can be just a simple summary of the sources, but it usually has an organizational pattern and combines both summary and synthesis. A summary is a recap of the important information of the source, but a synthesis is a re-organization, or a reshuffling, of that information. It might give a new interpretation of old material or combine new with old interpretations. Or it might trace the intellectual progression of the field, including major debates. And depending on the situation, the literature review may evaluate the sources and advise the reader on the most pertinent or relevant.
But how is a literature review different from an academic research paper?
The main focus of an academic research paper is to develop a new argument, and a research paper is likely to contain a literature review as one of its parts. In a research paper, you use the literature as a foundation and as support for a new insight that you contribute. The focus of a literature review, however, is to summarize and synthesize the arguments and ideas of others without adding new contributions.
Why do we write literature reviews?
Literature reviews provide you with a handy guide to a particular topic. If you have limited time to conduct research, literature reviews can give you an overview or act as a stepping stone. For professionals, they are useful reports that keep them up to date with what is current in the field. For scholars, the depth and breadth of the literature review emphasizes the credibility of the writer in his or her field. Literature reviews also provide a solid background for a research paper’s investigation. Comprehensive knowledge of the literature of the field is essential to most research papers.
Who writes these things, anyway?
Literature reviews are written occasionally in the humanities, but mostly in the sciences and social sciences; in experiment and lab reports, they constitute a section of the paper. Sometimes a literature review is written as a paper in itself.
Let’s get to it! What should I do before writing the literature review?
If your assignment is not very specific, seek clarification from your instructor:
- Roughly how many sources should you include?
- What types of sources (books, journal articles, websites)?
- Should you summarize, synthesize, or critique your sources by discussing a common theme or issue?
- Should you evaluate your sources?
- Should you provide subheadings and other background information, such as definitions and/or a history?
Look for other literature reviews in your area of interest or in the discipline and read them to get a sense of the types of themes you might want to look for in your own research or ways to organize your final review. You can simply put the word “review” in your search engine along with your other topic terms to find articles of this type on the Internet or in an electronic database. The bibliography or reference section of sources you’ve already read are also excellent entry points into your own research.
Narrow your topic
There are hundreds or even thousands of articles and books on most areas of study. The narrower your topic, the easier it will be to limit the number of sources you need to read in order to get a good survey of the material. Your instructor will probably not expect you to read everything that’s out there on the topic, but you’ll make your job easier if you first limit your scope.
Keep in mind that UNC Libraries have research guides and to databases relevant to many fields of study. You can reach out to the subject librarian for a consultation: https://library.unc.edu/support/consultations/ .
And don’t forget to tap into your professor’s (or other professors’) knowledge in the field. Ask your professor questions such as: “If you had to read only one book from the 90’s on topic X, what would it be?” Questions such as this help you to find and determine quickly the most seminal pieces in the field.
Consider whether your sources are current
Some disciplines require that you use information that is as current as possible. In the sciences, for instance, treatments for medical problems are constantly changing according to the latest studies. Information even two years old could be obsolete. However, if you are writing a review in the humanities, history, or social sciences, a survey of the history of the literature may be what is needed, because what is important is how perspectives have changed through the years or within a certain time period. Try sorting through some other current bibliographies or literature reviews in the field to get a sense of what your discipline expects. You can also use this method to consider what is currently of interest to scholars in this field and what is not.
Strategies for writing the literature review
Find a focus.
A literature review, like a term paper, is usually organized around ideas, not the sources themselves as an annotated bibliography would be organized. This means that you will not just simply list your sources and go into detail about each one of them, one at a time. No. As you read widely but selectively in your topic area, consider instead what themes or issues connect your sources together. Do they present one or different solutions? Is there an aspect of the field that is missing? How well do they present the material and do they portray it according to an appropriate theory? Do they reveal a trend in the field? A raging debate? Pick one of these themes to focus the organization of your review.
Convey it to your reader
A literature review may not have a traditional thesis statement (one that makes an argument), but you do need to tell readers what to expect. Try writing a simple statement that lets the reader know what is your main organizing principle. Here are a couple of examples:
The current trend in treatment for congestive heart failure combines surgery and medicine. More and more cultural studies scholars are accepting popular media as a subject worthy of academic consideration.
You’ve got a focus, and you’ve stated it clearly and directly. Now what is the most effective way of presenting the information? What are the most important topics, subtopics, etc., that your review needs to include? And in what order should you present them? Develop an organization for your review at both a global and local level:
First, cover the basic categories
Just like most academic papers, literature reviews also must contain at least three basic elements: an introduction or background information section; the body of the review containing the discussion of sources; and, finally, a conclusion and/or recommendations section to end the paper. The following provides a brief description of the content of each:
- Introduction: Gives a quick idea of the topic of the literature review, such as the central theme or organizational pattern.
- Body: Contains your discussion of sources and is organized either chronologically, thematically, or methodologically (see below for more information on each).
- Conclusions/Recommendations: Discuss what you have drawn from reviewing literature so far. Where might the discussion proceed?
Organizing the body
Once you have the basic categories in place, then you must consider how you will present the sources themselves within the body of your paper. Create an organizational method to focus this section even further.
To help you come up with an overall organizational framework for your review, consider the following scenario:
You’ve decided to focus your literature review on materials dealing with sperm whales. This is because you’ve just finished reading Moby Dick, and you wonder if that whale’s portrayal is really real. You start with some articles about the physiology of sperm whales in biology journals written in the 1980’s. But these articles refer to some British biological studies performed on whales in the early 18th century. So you check those out. Then you look up a book written in 1968 with information on how sperm whales have been portrayed in other forms of art, such as in Alaskan poetry, in French painting, or on whale bone, as the whale hunters in the late 19th century used to do. This makes you wonder about American whaling methods during the time portrayed in Moby Dick, so you find some academic articles published in the last five years on how accurately Herman Melville portrayed the whaling scene in his novel.
Now consider some typical ways of organizing the sources into a review:
- Chronological: If your review follows the chronological method, you could write about the materials above according to when they were published. For instance, first you would talk about the British biological studies of the 18th century, then about Moby Dick, published in 1851, then the book on sperm whales in other art (1968), and finally the biology articles (1980s) and the recent articles on American whaling of the 19th century. But there is relatively no continuity among subjects here. And notice that even though the sources on sperm whales in other art and on American whaling are written recently, they are about other subjects/objects that were created much earlier. Thus, the review loses its chronological focus.
- By publication: Order your sources by publication chronology, then, only if the order demonstrates a more important trend. For instance, you could order a review of literature on biological studies of sperm whales if the progression revealed a change in dissection practices of the researchers who wrote and/or conducted the studies.
- By trend: A better way to organize the above sources chronologically is to examine the sources under another trend, such as the history of whaling. Then your review would have subsections according to eras within this period. For instance, the review might examine whaling from pre-1600-1699, 1700-1799, and 1800-1899. Under this method, you would combine the recent studies on American whaling in the 19th century with Moby Dick itself in the 1800-1899 category, even though the authors wrote a century apart.
- Thematic: Thematic reviews of literature are organized around a topic or issue, rather than the progression of time. However, progression of time may still be an important factor in a thematic review. For instance, the sperm whale review could focus on the development of the harpoon for whale hunting. While the study focuses on one topic, harpoon technology, it will still be organized chronologically. The only difference here between a “chronological” and a “thematic” approach is what is emphasized the most: the development of the harpoon or the harpoon technology.But more authentic thematic reviews tend to break away from chronological order. For instance, a thematic review of material on sperm whales might examine how they are portrayed as “evil” in cultural documents. The subsections might include how they are personified, how their proportions are exaggerated, and their behaviors misunderstood. A review organized in this manner would shift between time periods within each section according to the point made.
- Methodological: A methodological approach differs from the two above in that the focusing factor usually does not have to do with the content of the material. Instead, it focuses on the “methods” of the researcher or writer. For the sperm whale project, one methodological approach would be to look at cultural differences between the portrayal of whales in American, British, and French art work. Or the review might focus on the economic impact of whaling on a community. A methodological scope will influence either the types of documents in the review or the way in which these documents are discussed. Once you’ve decided on the organizational method for the body of the review, the sections you need to include in the paper should be easy to figure out. They should arise out of your organizational strategy. In other words, a chronological review would have subsections for each vital time period. A thematic review would have subtopics based upon factors that relate to the theme or issue.
Sometimes, though, you might need to add additional sections that are necessary for your study, but do not fit in the organizational strategy of the body. What other sections you include in the body is up to you. Put in only what is necessary. Here are a few other sections you might want to consider:
- Current Situation: Information necessary to understand the topic or focus of the literature review.
- History: The chronological progression of the field, the literature, or an idea that is necessary to understand the literature review, if the body of the literature review is not already a chronology.
- Methods and/or Standards: The criteria you used to select the sources in your literature review or the way in which you present your information. For instance, you might explain that your review includes only peer-reviewed articles and journals.
Questions for Further Research: What questions about the field has the review sparked? How will you further your research as a result of the review?
Once you’ve settled on a general pattern of organization, you’re ready to write each section. There are a few guidelines you should follow during the writing stage as well. Here is a sample paragraph from a literature review about sexism and language to illuminate the following discussion:
However, other studies have shown that even gender-neutral antecedents are more likely to produce masculine images than feminine ones (Gastil, 1990). Hamilton (1988) asked students to complete sentences that required them to fill in pronouns that agreed with gender-neutral antecedents such as “writer,” “pedestrian,” and “persons.” The students were asked to describe any image they had when writing the sentence. Hamilton found that people imagined 3.3 men to each woman in the masculine “generic” condition and 1.5 men per woman in the unbiased condition. Thus, while ambient sexism accounted for some of the masculine bias, sexist language amplified the effect. (Source: Erika Falk and Jordan Mills, “Why Sexist Language Affects Persuasion: The Role of Homophily, Intended Audience, and Offense,” Women and Language19:2).
In the example above, the writers refer to several other sources when making their point. A literature review in this sense is just like any other academic research paper. Your interpretation of the available sources must be backed up with evidence to show that what you are saying is valid.
Select only the most important points in each source to highlight in the review. The type of information you choose to mention should relate directly to the review’s focus, whether it is thematic, methodological, or chronological.
Use quotes sparingly
Falk and Mills do not use any direct quotes. That is because the survey nature of the literature review does not allow for in-depth discussion or detailed quotes from the text. Some short quotes here and there are okay, though, if you want to emphasize a point, or if what the author said just cannot be rewritten in your own words. Notice that Falk and Mills do quote certain terms that were coined by the author, not common knowledge, or taken directly from the study. But if you find yourself wanting to put in more quotes, check with your instructor.
Summarize and synthesize
Remember to summarize and synthesize your sources within each paragraph as well as throughout the review. The authors here recapitulate important features of Hamilton’s study, but then synthesize it by rephrasing the study’s significance and relating it to their own work.
Keep your own voice
While the literature review presents others’ ideas, your voice (the writer’s) should remain front and center. Notice that Falk and Mills weave references to other sources into their own text, but they still maintain their own voice by starting and ending the paragraph with their own ideas and their own words. The sources support what Falk and Mills are saying.
Use caution when paraphrasing
When paraphrasing a source that is not your own, be sure to represent the author’s information or opinions accurately and in your own words. In the preceding example, Falk and Mills either directly refer in the text to the author of their source, such as Hamilton, or they provide ample notation in the text when the ideas they are mentioning are not their own, for example, Gastil’s. For more information, please see our handout on plagiarism .
Revise, revise, revise
Draft in hand? Now you’re ready to revise. Spending a lot of time revising is a wise idea, because your main objective is to present the material, not the argument. So check over your review again to make sure it follows the assignment and/or your outline. Then, just as you would for most other academic forms of writing, rewrite or rework the language of your review so that you’ve presented your information in the most concise manner possible. Be sure to use terminology familiar to your audience; get rid of unnecessary jargon or slang. Finally, double check that you’ve documented your sources and formatted the review appropriately for your discipline. For tips on the revising and editing process, see our handout on revising drafts .
We consulted these works while writing this handout. This is not a comprehensive list of resources on the handout’s topic, and we encourage you to do your own research to find additional publications. Please do not use this list as a model for the format of your own reference list, as it may not match the citation style you are using. For guidance on formatting citations, please see the UNC Libraries citation tutorial . We revise these tips periodically and welcome feedback.
Anson, Chris M., and Robert A. Schwegler. 2010. The Longman Handbook for Writers and Readers , 6th ed. New York: Longman.
Jones, Robert, Patrick Bizzaro, and Cynthia Selfe. 1997. The Harcourt Brace Guide to Writing in the Disciplines . New York: Harcourt Brace.
Lamb, Sandra E. 1998. How to Write It: A Complete Guide to Everything You’ll Ever Write . Berkeley: Ten Speed Press.
Rosen, Leonard J., and Laurence Behrens. 2003. The Allyn & Bacon Handbook , 5th ed. New York: Longman.
Troyka, Lynn Quittman, and Doug Hesse. 2016. Simon and Schuster Handbook for Writers , 11th ed. London: Pearson.
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- Getting Started
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- What is a Literature Review?
- What is NOT a Literature Review?
- Purposes of a Literature Review
- Types of Literature Reviews
- Literature Reviews vs. Systematic Reviews
- Systematic vs. Meta-Analysis
Literature Review is a comprehensive survey of the works published in a particular field of study or line of research, usually over a specific period of time, in the form of an in-depth, critical bibliographic essay or annotated list in which attention is drawn to the most significant works.
Also, we can define a literature review as the collected body of scholarly works related to a topic:
- Summarizes and analyzes previous research relevant to a topic
- Includes scholarly books and articles published in academic journals
- Can be an specific scholarly paper or a section in a research paper
The objective of a Literature Review is to find previous published scholarly works relevant to an specific topic
- Help gather ideas or information
- Keep up to date in current trends and findings
- Help develop new questions
A literature review is important because it:
- Explains the background of research on a topic.
- Demonstrates why a topic is significant to a subject area.
- Helps focus your own research questions or problems
- Discovers relationships between research studies/ideas.
- Suggests unexplored ideas or populations
- Identifies major themes, concepts, and researchers on a topic.
- Tests assumptions; may help counter preconceived ideas and remove unconscious bias.
- Identifies critical gaps, points of disagreement, or potentially flawed methodology or theoretical approaches.
- Indicates potential directions for future research.
All content in this section is from Literature Review Research from Old Dominion University
Keep in mind the following, a literature review is NOT:
Not an essay
Not an annotated bibliography in which you summarize each article that you have reviewed. A literature review goes beyond basic summarizing to focus on the critical analysis of the reviewed works and their relationship to your research question.
Not a research paper where you select resources to support one side of an issue versus another. A lit review should explain and consider all sides of an argument in order to avoid bias, and areas of agreement and disagreement should be highlighted.
A literature review serves several purposes. For example, it
- provides thorough knowledge of previous studies; introduces seminal works.
- helps focus one’s own research topic.
- identifies a conceptual framework for one’s own research questions or problems; indicates potential directions for future research.
- suggests previously unused or underused methodologies, designs, quantitative and qualitative strategies.
- identifies gaps in previous studies; identifies flawed methodologies and/or theoretical approaches; avoids replication of mistakes.
- helps the researcher avoid repetition of earlier research.
- suggests unexplored populations.
- determines whether past studies agree or disagree; identifies controversy in the literature.
- tests assumptions; may help counter preconceived ideas and remove unconscious bias.
As Kennedy (2007) notes*, it is important to think of knowledge in a given field as consisting of three layers. First, there are the primary studies that researchers conduct and publish. Second are the reviews of those studies that summarize and offer new interpretations built from and often extending beyond the original studies. Third, there are the perceptions, conclusions, opinion, and interpretations that are shared informally that become part of the lore of field. In composing a literature review, it is important to note that it is often this third layer of knowledge that is cited as "true" even though it often has only a loose relationship to the primary studies and secondary literature reviews.
Given this, while literature reviews are designed to provide an overview and synthesis of pertinent sources you have explored, there are several approaches to how they can be done, depending upon the type of analysis underpinning your study. Listed below are definitions of types of literature reviews:
Argumentative Review This form examines literature selectively in order to support or refute an argument, deeply imbedded assumption, or philosophical problem already established in the literature. The purpose is to develop a body of literature that establishes a contrarian viewpoint. Given the value-laden nature of some social science research [e.g., educational reform; immigration control], argumentative approaches to analyzing the literature can be a legitimate and important form of discourse. However, note that they can also introduce problems of bias when they are used to to make summary claims of the sort found in systematic reviews.
Integrative Review Considered a form of research that reviews, critiques, and synthesizes representative literature on a topic in an integrated way such that new frameworks and perspectives on the topic are generated. The body of literature includes all studies that address related or identical hypotheses. A well-done integrative review meets the same standards as primary research in regard to clarity, rigor, and replication.
Historical Review Few things rest in isolation from historical precedent. Historical reviews are focused on examining research throughout a period of time, often starting with the first time an issue, concept, theory, phenomena emerged in the literature, then tracing its evolution within the scholarship of a discipline. The purpose is to place research in a historical context to show familiarity with state-of-the-art developments and to identify the likely directions for future research.
Methodological Review A review does not always focus on what someone said [content], but how they said it [method of analysis]. This approach provides a framework of understanding at different levels (i.e. those of theory, substantive fields, research approaches and data collection and analysis techniques), enables researchers to draw on a wide variety of knowledge ranging from the conceptual level to practical documents for use in fieldwork in the areas of ontological and epistemological consideration, quantitative and qualitative integration, sampling, interviewing, data collection and data analysis, and helps highlight many ethical issues which we should be aware of and consider as we go through our study.
Systematic Review This form consists of an overview of existing evidence pertinent to a clearly formulated research question, which uses pre-specified and standardized methods to identify and critically appraise relevant research, and to collect, report, and analyse data from the studies that are included in the review. Typically it focuses on a very specific empirical question, often posed in a cause-and-effect form, such as "To what extent does A contribute to B?"
Theoretical Review The purpose of this form is to concretely examine the corpus of theory that has accumulated in regard to an issue, concept, theory, phenomena. The theoretical literature review help establish what theories already exist, the relationships between them, to what degree the existing theories have been investigated, and to develop new hypotheses to be tested. Often this form is used to help establish a lack of appropriate theories or reveal that current theories are inadequate for explaining new or emerging research problems. The unit of analysis can focus on a theoretical concept or a whole theory or framework.
* Kennedy, Mary M. "Defining a Literature." Educational Researcher 36 (April 2007): 139-147.
All content in this section is from The Literature Review created by Dr. Robert Larabee USC
Robinson, P. and Lowe, J. (2015), Literature reviews vs systematic reviews. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 39: 103-103. doi: 10.1111/1753-6405.12393
What's in the name? The difference between a Systematic Review and a Literature Review, and why it matters . By Lynn Kysh from University of Southern California
Systematic review or meta-analysis?
A systematic review answers a defined research question by collecting and summarizing all empirical evidence that fits pre-specified eligibility criteria.
A meta-analysis is the use of statistical methods to summarize the results of these studies.
Systematic reviews, just like other research articles, can be of varying quality. They are a significant piece of work (the Centre for Reviews and Dissemination at York estimates that a team will take 9-24 months), and to be useful to other researchers and practitioners they should have:
- clearly stated objectives with pre-defined eligibility criteria for studies
- explicit, reproducible methodology
- a systematic search that attempts to identify all studies
- assessment of the validity of the findings of the included studies (e.g. risk of bias)
- systematic presentation, and synthesis, of the characteristics and findings of the included studies
Not all systematic reviews contain meta-analysis.
Meta-analysis is the use of statistical methods to summarize the results of independent studies. By combining information from all relevant studies, meta-analysis can provide more precise estimates of the effects of health care than those derived from the individual studies included within a review. More information on meta-analyses can be found in Cochrane Handbook, Chapter 9 .
A meta-analysis goes beyond critique and integration and conducts secondary statistical analysis on the outcomes of similar studies. It is a systematic review that uses quantitative methods to synthesize and summarize the results.
An advantage of a meta-analysis is the ability to be completely objective in evaluating research findings. Not all topics, however, have sufficient research evidence to allow a meta-analysis to be conducted. In that case, an integrative review is an appropriate strategy.
Some of the content in this section is from Systematic reviews and meta-analyses: step by step guide created by Kate McAllister.
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Literature Review vs Systematic Review
- Literature Review vs. Systematic Review
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It’s common to confuse systematic and literature reviews because both are used to provide a summary of the existent literature or research on a specific topic. Regardless of this commonality, both types of review vary significantly. The following table provides a detailed explanation as well as the differences between systematic and literature reviews.
Kysh, Lynn (2013): Difference between a systematic review and a literature review. [figshare]. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.766364
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What is a literature review?
A literature review discusses published information in a particular subject area. Often part of the introduction to an essay, research report or thesis, the literature review is literally a "re" view or "look again" at what has already been written about the topic, wherein the author analyzes a segment of a published body of knowledge through summary, classification, and comparison of prior research studies, reviews of literature, and theoretical articles. Literature reviews provide the reader with a bibliographic history of the scholarly research in any given field of study. As such, as new information becomes available, literature reviews grow in length or become focused on one specific aspect of the topic.
A literature review can be just a simple summary of the sources, but usually contains an organizational pattern and combines both summary and synthesis. A summary is a recap of the important information of the source, whereas a synthesis is a re-organization, or a reshuffling, of that information. The literature review might give a new interpretation of old material or combine new with old interpretations. Or it might trace the intellectual progression of the field, including major debates. Depending on the situation, the literature review may evaluate the sources and advise the reader on the most pertinent or relevant.
A literature review is NOT:
- An annotated bibliography – a list of citations to books, articles and documents that includes a brief description and evaluation for each citation. The annotations inform the reader of the relevance, accuracy and quality of the sources cited.
- A literary review – a critical discussion of the merits and weaknesses of a literary work.
- A book review – a critical discussion of the merits and weaknesses of a particular book.
- Teaching Information Literacy Reframed: 50+ Framework-Based Exercises for Creating Information-Literate Learners
- The UNC Writing Center – Literature Reviews
- The UW-Madison Writing Center: The Writer’s Handbook – Academic and Professional Writing – Learn How to Write a Literature Review
What is the difference between a literature review and a research paper?
The focus of a literature review is to summarize and synthesize the arguments and ideas of others without adding new contributions, whereas academic research papers present and develop new arguments that build upon the previously available body of literature.
How do I write a literature review?
There are many resources that offer step-by-step guidance for writing a literature review, and you can find some of them under Other Resources in the menu to the left. Writing the Literature Review: A Practical Guide suggests these steps:
- Chose a review topic and develop a research question
- Locate and organize research sources
- Select, analyze and annotate sources
- Evaluate research articles and other documents
- Structure and organize the literature review
- Develop arguments and supporting claims
- Synthesize and interpret the literature
- Put it all together
What is the purpose of writing a literature review?
Literature reviews serve as a guide to a particular topic: professionals can use literature reviews to keep current on their field; scholars can determine credibility of the writer in his or her field by analyzing the literature review.
As a writer, you will use the literature review to:
- See what has, and what has not, been investigated about your topic
- Identify data sources that other researches have used
- Learn how others in the field have defined and measured key concepts
- Establish context, or background, for the argument explored in the rest of a paper
- Explain what the strengths and weaknesses of that knowledge and ideas might be
- Contribute to the field by moving research forward
- To keep the writer/reader up to date with current developments in a particular field of study
- Develop alternative research projects
- Put your work in perspective
- Demonstrate your understanding and your ability to critically evaluate research in the field
- Provide evidence that may support your own findings
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A literature review surveys prior research published in books, scholarly articles, and any other sources relevant to a particular issue, area of research, or theory, and by so doing, provides a description, summary, and critical evaluation of these works in relation to the research problem being investigated. Literature reviews are designed to provide an overview of sources you have used in researching a particular topic and to demonstrate to your readers how your research fits within existing scholarship about the topic.
Fink, Arlene. Conducting Research Literature Reviews: From the Internet to Paper . Fourth edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2014.
Importance of a Good Literature Review
A literature review may consist of simply a summary of key sources, but in the social sciences, a literature review usually has an organizational pattern and combines both summary and synthesis, often within specific conceptual categories . A summary is a recap of the important information of the source, but a synthesis is a re-organization, or a reshuffling, of that information in a way that informs how you are planning to investigate a research problem. The analytical features of a literature review might:
- Give a new interpretation of old material or combine new with old interpretations,
- Trace the intellectual progression of the field, including major debates,
- Depending on the situation, evaluate the sources and advise the reader on the most pertinent or relevant research, or
- Usually in the conclusion of a literature review, identify where gaps exist in how a problem has been researched to date.
Given this, the purpose of a literature review is to:
- Place each work in the context of its contribution to understanding the research problem being studied.
- Describe the relationship of each work to the others under consideration.
- Identify new ways to interpret prior research.
- Reveal any gaps that exist in the literature.
- Resolve conflicts amongst seemingly contradictory previous studies.
- Identify areas of prior scholarship to prevent duplication of effort.
- Point the way in fulfilling a need for additional research.
- Locate your own research within the context of existing literature [very important].
Fink, Arlene. Conducting Research Literature Reviews: From the Internet to Paper. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2005; Hart, Chris. Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1998; Jesson, Jill. Doing Your Literature Review: Traditional and Systematic Techniques . Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2011; Knopf, Jeffrey W. "Doing a Literature Review." PS: Political Science and Politics 39 (January 2006): 127-132; Ridley, Diana. The Literature Review: A Step-by-Step Guide for Students . 2nd ed. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2012.
Types of Literature Reviews
It is important to think of knowledge in a given field as consisting of three layers. First, there are the primary studies that researchers conduct and publish. Second are the reviews of those studies that summarize and offer new interpretations built from and often extending beyond the primary studies. Third, there are the perceptions, conclusions, opinion, and interpretations that are shared informally among scholars that become part of the body of epistemological traditions within the field.
In composing a literature review, it is important to note that it is often this third layer of knowledge that is cited as "true" even though it often has only a loose relationship to the primary studies and secondary literature reviews. Given this, while literature reviews are designed to provide an overview and synthesis of pertinent sources you have explored, there are a number of approaches you could adopt depending upon the type of analysis underpinning your study.
Argumentative Review This form examines literature selectively in order to support or refute an argument, deeply embedded assumption, or philosophical problem already established in the literature. The purpose is to develop a body of literature that establishes a contrarian viewpoint. Given the value-laden nature of some social science research [e.g., educational reform; immigration control], argumentative approaches to analyzing the literature can be a legitimate and important form of discourse. However, note that they can also introduce problems of bias when they are used to make summary claims of the sort found in systematic reviews [see below].
Integrative Review Considered a form of research that reviews, critiques, and synthesizes representative literature on a topic in an integrated way such that new frameworks and perspectives on the topic are generated. The body of literature includes all studies that address related or identical hypotheses or research problems. A well-done integrative review meets the same standards as primary research in regard to clarity, rigor, and replication. This is the most common form of review in the social sciences.
Historical Review Few things rest in isolation from historical precedent. Historical literature reviews focus on examining research throughout a period of time, often starting with the first time an issue, concept, theory, phenomena emerged in the literature, then tracing its evolution within the scholarship of a discipline. The purpose is to place research in a historical context to show familiarity with state-of-the-art developments and to identify the likely directions for future research.
Methodological Review A review does not always focus on what someone said [findings], but how they came about saying what they say [method of analysis]. Reviewing methods of analysis provides a framework of understanding at different levels [i.e. those of theory, substantive fields, research approaches, and data collection and analysis techniques], how researchers draw upon a wide variety of knowledge ranging from the conceptual level to practical documents for use in fieldwork in the areas of ontological and epistemological consideration, quantitative and qualitative integration, sampling, interviewing, data collection, and data analysis. This approach helps highlight ethical issues which you should be aware of and consider as you go through your own study.
Systematic Review This form consists of an overview of existing evidence pertinent to a clearly formulated research question, which uses pre-specified and standardized methods to identify and critically appraise relevant research, and to collect, report, and analyze data from the studies that are included in the review. The goal is to deliberately document, critically evaluate, and summarize scientifically all of the research about a clearly defined research problem . Typically it focuses on a very specific empirical question, often posed in a cause-and-effect form, such as "To what extent does A contribute to B?" This type of literature review is primarily applied to examining prior research studies in clinical medicine and allied health fields, but it is increasingly being used in the social sciences.
Theoretical Review The purpose of this form is to examine the corpus of theory that has accumulated in regard to an issue, concept, theory, phenomena. The theoretical literature review helps to establish what theories already exist, the relationships between them, to what degree the existing theories have been investigated, and to develop new hypotheses to be tested. Often this form is used to help establish a lack of appropriate theories or reveal that current theories are inadequate for explaining new or emerging research problems. The unit of analysis can focus on a theoretical concept or a whole theory or framework.
NOTE : Most often the literature review will incorporate some combination of types. For example, a review that examines literature supporting or refuting an argument, assumption, or philosophical problem related to the research problem will also need to include writing supported by sources that establish the history of these arguments in the literature.
Baumeister, Roy F. and Mark R. Leary. "Writing Narrative Literature Reviews." Review of General Psychology 1 (September 1997): 311-320; Mark R. Fink, Arlene. Conducting Research Literature Reviews: From the Internet to Paper . 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2005; Hart, Chris. Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1998; Kennedy, Mary M. "Defining a Literature." Educational Researcher 36 (April 2007): 139-147; Petticrew, Mark and Helen Roberts. Systematic Reviews in the Social Sciences: A Practical Guide . Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 2006; Torracro, Richard. "Writing Integrative Literature Reviews: Guidelines and Examples." Human Resource Development Review 4 (September 2005): 356-367; Rocco, Tonette S. and Maria S. Plakhotnik. "Literature Reviews, Conceptual Frameworks, and Theoretical Frameworks: Terms, Functions, and Distinctions." Human Ressource Development Review 8 (March 2008): 120-130; Sutton, Anthea. Systematic Approaches to a Successful Literature Review . Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications, 2016.
Structure and Writing Style
I. Thinking About Your Literature Review
The structure of a literature review should include the following in support of understanding the research problem :
- An overview of the subject, issue, or theory under consideration, along with the objectives of the literature review,
- Division of works under review into themes or categories [e.g. works that support a particular position, those against, and those offering alternative approaches entirely],
- An explanation of how each work is similar to and how it varies from the others,
- Conclusions as to which pieces are best considered in their argument, are most convincing of their opinions, and make the greatest contribution to the understanding and development of their area of research.
The critical evaluation of each work should consider :
- Provenance -- what are the author's credentials? Are the author's arguments supported by evidence [e.g. primary historical material, case studies, narratives, statistics, recent scientific findings]?
- Methodology -- were the techniques used to identify, gather, and analyze the data appropriate to addressing the research problem? Was the sample size appropriate? Were the results effectively interpreted and reported?
- Objectivity -- is the author's perspective even-handed or prejudicial? Is contrary data considered or is certain pertinent information ignored to prove the author's point?
- Persuasiveness -- which of the author's theses are most convincing or least convincing?
- Validity -- are the author's arguments and conclusions convincing? Does the work ultimately contribute in any significant way to an understanding of the subject?
II. Development of the Literature Review
Four Basic Stages of Writing 1. Problem formulation -- which topic or field is being examined and what are its component issues? 2. Literature search -- finding materials relevant to the subject being explored. 3. Data evaluation -- determining which literature makes a significant contribution to the understanding of the topic. 4. Analysis and interpretation -- discussing the findings and conclusions of pertinent literature.
Consider the following issues before writing the literature review: Clarify If your assignment is not specific about what form your literature review should take, seek clarification from your professor by asking these questions: 1. Roughly how many sources would be appropriate to include? 2. What types of sources should I review (books, journal articles, websites; scholarly versus popular sources)? 3. Should I summarize, synthesize, or critique sources by discussing a common theme or issue? 4. Should I evaluate the sources in any way beyond evaluating how they relate to understanding the research problem? 5. Should I provide subheadings and other background information, such as definitions and/or a history? Find Models Use the exercise of reviewing the literature to examine how authors in your discipline or area of interest have composed their literature review sections. Read them to get a sense of the types of themes you might want to look for in your own research or to identify ways to organize your final review. The bibliography or reference section of sources you've already read, such as required readings in the course syllabus, are also excellent entry points into your own research. Narrow the Topic The narrower your topic, the easier it will be to limit the number of sources you need to read in order to obtain a good survey of relevant resources. Your professor will probably not expect you to read everything that's available about the topic, but you'll make the act of reviewing easier if you first limit scope of the research problem. A good strategy is to begin by searching the USC Libraries Catalog for recent books about the topic and review the table of contents for chapters that focuses on specific issues. You can also review the indexes of books to find references to specific issues that can serve as the focus of your research. For example, a book surveying the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may include a chapter on the role Egypt has played in mediating the conflict, or look in the index for the pages where Egypt is mentioned in the text. Consider Whether Your Sources are Current Some disciplines require that you use information that is as current as possible. This is particularly true in disciplines in medicine and the sciences where research conducted becomes obsolete very quickly as new discoveries are made. However, when writing a review in the social sciences, a survey of the history of the literature may be required. In other words, a complete understanding the research problem requires you to deliberately examine how knowledge and perspectives have changed over time. Sort through other current bibliographies or literature reviews in the field to get a sense of what your discipline expects. You can also use this method to explore what is considered by scholars to be a "hot topic" and what is not.
III. Ways to Organize Your Literature Review
Chronology of Events If your review follows the chronological method, you could write about the materials according to when they were published. This approach should only be followed if a clear path of research building on previous research can be identified and that these trends follow a clear chronological order of development. For example, a literature review that focuses on continuing research about the emergence of German economic power after the fall of the Soviet Union. By Publication Order your sources by publication chronology, then, only if the order demonstrates a more important trend. For instance, you could order a review of literature on environmental studies of brown fields if the progression revealed, for example, a change in the soil collection practices of the researchers who wrote and/or conducted the studies. Thematic [“conceptual categories”] A thematic literature review is the most common approach to summarizing prior research in the social and behavioral sciences. Thematic reviews are organized around a topic or issue, rather than the progression of time, although the progression of time may still be incorporated into a thematic review. For example, a review of the Internet’s impact on American presidential politics could focus on the development of online political satire. While the study focuses on one topic, the Internet’s impact on American presidential politics, it would still be organized chronologically reflecting technological developments in media. The difference in this example between a "chronological" and a "thematic" approach is what is emphasized the most: themes related to the role of the Internet in presidential politics. Note that more authentic thematic reviews tend to break away from chronological order. A review organized in this manner would shift between time periods within each section according to the point being made. Methodological A methodological approach focuses on the methods utilized by the researcher. For the Internet in American presidential politics project, one methodological approach would be to look at cultural differences between the portrayal of American presidents on American, British, and French websites. Or the review might focus on the fundraising impact of the Internet on a particular political party. A methodological scope will influence either the types of documents in the review or the way in which these documents are discussed.
Other Sections of Your Literature Review Once you've decided on the organizational method for your literature review, the sections you need to include in the paper should be easy to figure out because they arise from your organizational strategy. In other words, a chronological review would have subsections for each vital time period; a thematic review would have subtopics based upon factors that relate to the theme or issue. However, sometimes you may need to add additional sections that are necessary for your study, but do not fit in the organizational strategy of the body. What other sections you include in the body is up to you. However, only include what is necessary for the reader to locate your study within the larger scholarship about the research problem.
Here are examples of other sections, usually in the form of a single paragraph, you may need to include depending on the type of review you write:
- Current Situation : Information necessary to understand the current topic or focus of the literature review.
- Sources Used : Describes the methods and resources [e.g., databases] you used to identify the literature you reviewed.
- History : The chronological progression of the field, the research literature, or an idea that is necessary to understand the literature review, if the body of the literature review is not already a chronology.
- Selection Methods : Criteria you used to select (and perhaps exclude) sources in your literature review. For instance, you might explain that your review includes only peer-reviewed [i.e., scholarly] sources.
- Standards : Description of the way in which you present your information.
- Questions for Further Research : What questions about the field has the review sparked? How will you further your research as a result of the review?
IV. Writing Your Literature Review
Once you've settled on how to organize your literature review, you're ready to write each section. When writing your review, keep in mind these issues.
Use Evidence A literature review section is, in this sense, just like any other academic research paper. Your interpretation of the available sources must be backed up with evidence [citations] that demonstrates that what you are saying is valid. Be Selective Select only the most important points in each source to highlight in the review. The type of information you choose to mention should relate directly to the research problem, whether it is thematic, methodological, or chronological. Related items that provide additional information, but that are not key to understanding the research problem, can be included in a list of further readings . Use Quotes Sparingly Some short quotes are appropriate if you want to emphasize a point, or if what an author stated cannot be easily paraphrased. Sometimes you may need to quote certain terminology that was coined by the author, is not common knowledge, or taken directly from the study. Do not use extensive quotes as a substitute for using your own words in reviewing the literature. Summarize and Synthesize Remember to summarize and synthesize your sources within each thematic paragraph as well as throughout the review. Recapitulate important features of a research study, but then synthesize it by rephrasing the study's significance and relating it to your own work and the work of others. Keep Your Own Voice While the literature review presents others' ideas, your voice [the writer's] should remain front and center. For example, weave references to other sources into what you are writing but maintain your own voice by starting and ending the paragraph with your own ideas and wording. Use Caution When Paraphrasing When paraphrasing a source that is not your own, be sure to represent the author's information or opinions accurately and in your own words. Even when paraphrasing an author’s work, you still must provide a citation to that work.
V. Common Mistakes to Avoid
These are the most common mistakes made in reviewing social science research literature.
- Sources in your literature review do not clearly relate to the research problem;
- You do not take sufficient time to define and identify the most relevant sources to use in the literature review related to the research problem;
- Relies exclusively on secondary analytical sources rather than including relevant primary research studies or data;
- Uncritically accepts another researcher's findings and interpretations as valid, rather than examining critically all aspects of the research design and analysis;
- Does not describe the search procedures that were used in identifying the literature to review;
- Reports isolated statistical results rather than synthesizing them in chi-squared or meta-analytic methods; and,
- Only includes research that validates assumptions and does not consider contrary findings and alternative interpretations found in the literature.
Cook, Kathleen E. and Elise Murowchick. “Do Literature Review Skills Transfer from One Course to Another?” Psychology Learning and Teaching 13 (March 2014): 3-11; Fink, Arlene. Conducting Research Literature Reviews: From the Internet to Paper . 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2005; Hart, Chris. Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1998; Jesson, Jill. Doing Your Literature Review: Traditional and Systematic Techniques . London: SAGE, 2011; Literature Review Handout. Online Writing Center. Liberty University; Literature Reviews. The Writing Center. University of North Carolina; Onwuegbuzie, Anthony J. and Rebecca Frels. Seven Steps to a Comprehensive Literature Review: A Multimodal and Cultural Approach . Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2016; Ridley, Diana. The Literature Review: A Step-by-Step Guide for Students . 2nd ed. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE, 2012; Randolph, Justus J. “A Guide to Writing the Dissertation Literature Review." Practical Assessment, Research, and Evaluation. vol. 14, June 2009; Sutton, Anthea. Systematic Approaches to a Successful Literature Review . Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications, 2016; Taylor, Dena. The Literature Review: A Few Tips On Conducting It. University College Writing Centre. University of Toronto; Writing a Literature Review. Academic Skills Centre. University of Canberra.
Break Out of Your Disciplinary Box!
Thinking interdisciplinarily about a research problem can be a rewarding exercise in applying new ideas, theories, or concepts to an old problem. For example, what might cultural anthropologists say about the continuing conflict in the Middle East? In what ways might geographers view the need for better distribution of social service agencies in large cities than how social workers might study the issue? You don’t want to substitute a thorough review of core research literature in your discipline for studies conducted in other fields of study. However, particularly in the social sciences, thinking about research problems from multiple vectors is a key strategy for finding new solutions to a problem or gaining a new perspective. Consult with a librarian about identifying research databases in other disciplines; almost every field of study has at least one comprehensive database devoted to indexing its research literature.
Frodeman, Robert. The Oxford Handbook of Interdisciplinarity . New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.
Another Writing Tip
Don't Just Review for Content!
While conducting a review of the literature, maximize the time you devote to writing this part of your paper by thinking broadly about what you should be looking for and evaluating. Review not just what scholars are saying, but how are they saying it. Some questions to ask:
- How are they organizing their ideas?
- What methods have they used to study the problem?
- What theories have been used to explain, predict, or understand their research problem?
- What sources have they cited to support their conclusions?
- How have they used non-textual elements [e.g., charts, graphs, figures, etc.] to illustrate key points?
When you begin to write your literature review section, you'll be glad you dug deeper into how the research was designed and constructed because it establishes a means for developing more substantial analysis and interpretation of the research problem.
Hart, Chris. Doing a Literature Review: Releasing the Social Science Research Imagination . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1 998.
Yet Another Writing Tip
When Do I Know I Can Stop Looking and Move On?
Here are several strategies you can utilize to assess whether you've thoroughly reviewed the literature:
- Look for repeating patterns in the research findings . If the same thing is being said, just by different people, then this likely demonstrates that the research problem has hit a conceptual dead end. At this point consider: Does your study extend current research? Does it forge a new path? Or, does is merely add more of the same thing being said?
- Look at sources the authors cite to in their work . If you begin to see the same researchers cited again and again, then this is often an indication that no new ideas have been generated to address the research problem.
- Search Google Scholar to identify who has subsequently cited leading scholars already identified in your literature review [see next sub-tab]. This is called citation tracking and there are a number of sources that can help you identify who has cited whom, particularly scholars from outside of your discipline. Here again, if the same authors are being cited again and again, this may indicate no new literature has been written on the topic.
Onwuegbuzie, Anthony J. and Rebecca Frels. Seven Steps to a Comprehensive Literature Review: A Multimodal and Cultural Approach . Los Angeles, CA: Sage, 2016; Sutton, Anthea. Systematic Approaches to a Successful Literature Review . Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications, 2016.
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Systematic Literature Review or Literature Review?
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Table of Contents
As a researcher, you may be required to conduct a literature review. But what kind of review do you need to complete? Is it a systematic literature review or a standard literature review? In this article, we’ll outline the purpose of a systematic literature review, the difference between literature review and systematic review, and other important aspects of systematic literature reviews.
What is a Systematic Literature Review?
The purpose of systematic literature reviews is simple. Essentially, it is to provide a high-level of a particular research question. This question, in and of itself, is highly focused to match the review of the literature related to the topic at hand. For example, a focused question related to medical or clinical outcomes.
The components of a systematic literature review are quite different from the standard literature review research theses that most of us are used to (more on this below). And because of the specificity of the research question, typically a systematic literature review involves more than one primary author. There’s more work related to a systematic literature review, so it makes sense to divide the work among two or three (or even more) researchers.
Your systematic literature review will follow very clear and defined protocols that are decided on prior to any review. This involves extensive planning, and a deliberately designed search strategy that is in tune with the specific research question. Every aspect of a systematic literature review, including the research protocols, which databases are used, and dates of each search, must be transparent so that other researchers can be assured that the systematic literature review is comprehensive and focused.
Most systematic literature reviews originated in the world of medicine science. Now, they also include any evidence-based research questions. In addition to the focus and transparency of these types of reviews, additional aspects of a quality systematic literature review includes:
- Clear and concise review and summary
- Comprehensive coverage of the topic
- Accessibility and equality of the research reviewed
Systematic Review vs Literature Review
The difference between literature review and systematic review comes back to the initial research question. Whereas the systematic review is very specific and focused, the standard literature review is much more general. The components of a literature review, for example, are similar to any other research paper. That is, it includes an introduction, description of the methods used, a discussion and conclusion, as well as a reference list or bibliography.
A systematic review, however, includes entirely different components that reflect the specificity of its research question, and the requirement for transparency and inclusion. For instance, the systematic review will include:
- Eligibility criteria for included research
- A description of the systematic research search strategy
- An assessment of the validity of reviewed research
- Interpretations of the results of research included in the review
As you can see, contrary to the general overview or summary of a topic, the systematic literature review includes much more detail and work to compile than a standard literature review. Indeed, it can take years to conduct and write a systematic literature review. But the information that practitioners and other researchers can glean from a systematic literature review is, by its very nature, exceptionally valuable.
This is not to diminish the value of the standard literature review. The importance of literature reviews in research writing is discussed in this article . It’s just that the two types of research reviews answer different questions, and, therefore, have different purposes and roles in the world of research and evidence-based writing.
Systematic Literature Review vs Meta Analysis
It would be understandable to think that a systematic literature review is similar to a meta analysis. But, whereas a systematic review can include several research studies to answer a specific question, typically a meta analysis includes a comparison of different studies to suss out any inconsistencies or discrepancies. For more about this topic, check out Systematic Review VS Meta-Analysis article.
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Scholarly Journals and Popular Magazines: Differences in Research, Review, and Opinion Articles
- Where Do I Start?
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Research Articles, Reviews, and Opinion Pieces
Scholarly or research articles are written for experts in their fields. They are often peer-reviewed or reviewed by other experts in the field prior to publication. They often have terminology or jargon that is field specific. They are generally lengthy articles. Social science and science scholarly articles have similar structures as do arts and humanities scholarly articles. Not all items in a scholarly journal are peer reviewed. For example, an editorial opinion items can be published in a scholarly journal but the article itself is not scholarly. Scholarly journals may include book reviews or other content that have not been peer reviewed.
Empirical Study: (Original or Primary) based on observation, experimentation, or study. Clinical trials, clinical case studies, and most meta-analyses are empirical studies.
Review Article: (Secondary Sources) Article that summarizes the research in a particular subject, area, or topic. They often include a summary, an literature reviews, systematic reviews, and meta-analyses.
Clinical case study (Primary or Original sources): These articles provide real cases from medical or clinical practice. They often include symptoms and diagnosis.
Clinical trials ( Health Research): Th ese articles are often based on large groups of people. They often include methods and control studies. They tend to be lengthy articles.
Opinion Piece: An opinion piece often includes personal thoughts, beliefs, or feelings or a judgement or conclusion based on facts. The goal may be to persuade or influence the reader that their position on this topic is the best.
Book review: Recent review of books in the field. They may be several pages but tend to be fairly short.
Social Science and Science Research Articles
The majority of social science and physical science articles include
- Journal Title and Author
- Introduction with a hypothesis or thesis
- Literature Review
Arts and Humanities Research Articles
In the Arts and Humanities, scholarly articles tend to be less formatted than in the social sciences and sciences. In the humanities, scholars are not conducting the same kinds of research experiments, but they are still using evidence to draw logical conclusions. Common sections of these articles include:
- an Introduction
- works cited/References/Bibliography
Research versus Review Articles
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Systematic Review vs. Literature Review
- 28th October 2023
If you’ve been reading research papers, chances are you’ve come across two commonly used approaches to synthesizing existing knowledge: systematic reviews and literature reviews . Although they share similarities, it’s important to understand their differences to help you choose the most appropriate method for your research needs.
In this blog post, we’ll outline the key distinctions between systematic reviews and literature reviews, so that you can make an informed decision about which approach to include in your research plan . Let’s begin!
Objective and Purpose
The primary objective of a literature review is to provide an overview and summary of the existing literature on a specific topic to set the stage for your own critical evaluation . A literature review aims to identify key concepts, theories, and research findings, as well as gaps in knowledge, to establish a foundation for further studies.
On the other hand, systematic reviews have a more focused purpose. They aim to address a particular research question using a predefined methodology and criteria for study selection. Systematic reviews seek to provide a comprehensive and objective summary of the available evidence in order to draw significant conclusions.
Methodology and Process
Literature reviews often adopt a flexible and iterative approach. They utilize the analysis, evaluation, and summarization of relevant research or scholarly literature, such as journal articles, books, and conference proceedings. Researchers use various search strategies and sources to gather the material; selection criteria may be loosely defined. When undertaking the literature review, qualitative techniques are often used to identify patterns and themes.
In contrast, systematic reviews follow a more structured and replicable process. After your key research question has been fully developed, it can often be helpful to follow an analytic framework to guide your research. Extensive literature searches across multiple databases are conducted using predefined search terms and strict inclusion and exclusion criteria. Researchers critically assess the quality of research and risk of bias in each study, systematically extract and analyze the data, and may employ statistical methods, such as meta-analysis , to synthesize the findings.
Outcomes and Findings
The outcomes of literature reviews primarily include a summary of the existing literature, key findings, useful methodologies, and identified research gaps . These reviews provide a broad understanding of the current state of knowledge in a particular area and can help researchers identify directions for future studies. Literature reviews aim to describe and analyze the existing research rather than providing definitive conclusions or making recommendations.
Systematic reviews, however, produce more conclusive results. They statistically analyze the data from selected studies, often incorporating meta-analysis, in order to answer the key research question. Systematic review findings often include a summary of findings table to communicate the main outcomes as well as information about the materials that were covered in the review.
Applicability and Utility
Due to their broad nature, literature reviews are useful for researchers looking to gain an overview of a specific field or topic. They provide a foundation for understanding existing knowledge, identifying gaps, and generating research questions. Literature reviews tend to be used in the early stages of research projects or when developing theoretical frameworks for a thesis or dissertation.
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With their rigorous methodology, systematic reviews are valuable for informing evidence-based practice and decision-making. They can be used as stand-alone scientific publications to illustrate the current state of scientific evidence, set a research agenda, or inform policy-making.
If you’re trying to decide whether a systematic review or literature review is the best approach for your project, consider the main distinctions:
1. Literature reviews offer a broad overview of the existing literature and identify research gaps, while systematic reviews focus on answering a specific research question.
2. Literature reviews commonly adopt a flexible and iterative approach, while systematic reviews use a structured and rigorous approach.
3. Literature reviews identify key findings, useful methodologies, and identified research gaps. Systematic reviews, on the other hand, produce conclusive results to answer the key research question.
4. Literature reviews are often carried out early on in a thesis or dissertation to identify existing research gaps, whereas systematic reviews can stand on their own as a conclusive analysis.
Once you understand these differences, you’re ready to choose the best approach for your own research paper.
And if you’re interested in getting help with proofreading your research paper , consider our research paper editing services . You can even try a sample of our services for free . Good luck reviewing and researching!
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- Results & Discussion
Q: What is the difference between literature review and recommendations?
Asked by Shaddie Shawaz on 03 Dec, 2018
A literature review is a critical summary of all the published works on a particular topic. Most research papers include a section on literature review as part of the introduction. Often, the Discussion section too includes a critical review of selected studies for the purpose of comparing their results with those of the study at hand.
Recommendations are generally a part of the Discussion or Conclusion. Recommendations are basically what you tell your readers about the kind of a ctions that should be taken as a result of your findings. This could be with regard to policy, practice, theory, or further research. For instance, you can make recommendations on subsequent research that can be conducted based on the findings of your study, especially, if there is an interest in generalizing the findings beyond the study’s parameters. You may have identified gaps in the literature that should be addressed, and to which your study may not have contributed.
- How to write a literature review
- The secret to writing the results and discussion section of a manuscript
Answered by Editage Insights on 10 Dec, 2018
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Difference between Research Paper and Review Paper
Scholarly literature can be of different types. Many of them require researchers to perform an original study, whereas others are based on previously published research. Amateur researchers have quite a confusion understanding each type of scholarly literature and the difference between them.
When researchers partake in an original study or investigation of a unique topic, for example, a study of the prevalence of substance abuse in a specific community or geographical area, the findings of that study are presented as a research paper. The most essential component of a research paper is the analysis of the topic, evidence to support the study and the conclusion of the study. It can comprise of the answer to the reach question and may include a hypothesis, the resource requirement for the study and the method followed to reach the conclusion. The formatting of a research paper is fairly similar across all subjects and institutions, though it can vary from one region to another depending upon the pattern laid down by the publishing and educational bodies. This scholarly work is unique and bears no similarity to any other published work. Analysis of the data can vary from the use of software to authentic experiments.
Review papers are universal and can be focused upon a wide range of mediums, including articles in journals, books, magazines, and software. A review paper refers to the study and survey of a recently published Research paper on a specific topic or subject. For instance, climate change due to industrial waste has many scholarly Research paper. these papers can be reviewed by any other number of scholars for its merits. In order to write a review paper successfully, one needs to have knowledge of what other scholars have written on the subject and their thoughts on the subject, particularly in recent times. the reach papers act as a reference and source material for these review papers. These can be stimulating and extremely exhaustive with the intent for undertaking research by introducing challenging materials and facts. It should act as a summary of the original research paper with all its relevant literature on the topic.
Key differences between the Research paper and Review paper are given in the table below:
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What is the difference between research papers and review papers?
Researchers often have to write different types of articles, from review papers to review papers and more, each with its own purpose and structure. This makes it critical for students and researchers to understand the nuances of good writing and develop the skills required to write various kinds of academic text. With so many different types of academic writing to pursue – scholarly articles, commentaries, book reviews, case reports, clinical study reports – it is common for students and early career researchers to get confused. So in this article, we will explain what is a review paper and what is a research paper, while summarizing the similarities and difference between review papers and research papers.
Table of Contents
What is a Review Paper ?
A review paper offers an overview of previously published work and does not contain any new research findings. It evaluates and summarizes information or knowledge that is already available in various published formats like journals, books, or other publications, all of which is referred to as secondary literature. Well-written review papers play a crucial role in helping students and researchers understand existing knowledge in a specific field or a research topic they are interested in. By providing a comprehensive overview of previous studies, methodologies, findings, and trends, they help researchers identify gaps in a specific field of study opening up new avenues for future research.
What is a Research Paper ?
A research paper is based on original research and primary sources of data. Unlike review papers, researchers writing research papers need to report new findings derived from empirical research or experimentation. It requires the author to draw inferences or make assumptions based on experiments, surveys, interviews, or questionnaires employed to collect and analyze data. Research papers also typically follow the recommended IMRAD format, which includes an abstract, introduction, methodology, results, discussion, and conclusion. Through research papers, authors address a specific research question or hypothesis with the aim of contributing novel insights to the field.
Similarities between research papers and review papers
Research papers and review papers share several similarities, which makes it understandable that it is this pair of academic documents that are often most confused.
- Research papers and review papers are written by scholars and intended for an academic audience; they’re written with the aim of contributing to the existing body of knowledge in a particular field and can be published in peer reviewed journals.
- Both research papers and review papers require a comprehensive understanding of all the latest, relevant literature on a specific topic. This means authors must conduct a thorough review of existing studies, theories, and methodologies in their own subject and related areas to inform their own research or analysis.
- Research papers and review papers both adhere to specific formatting and citation styles dictated by the target journal. This ensures consistency and allows readers to easily locate and reference the sources cited in the papers.
These similarities highlight the rigorous, scholarly nature of both research papers and review papers, which requires both research integrity and a commitment to further knowledge in a field. However, these two types of academic writing are more different than one would think.
Differences between research papers and review papers
Though often used interchangeably to refer to academic content, research papers and review papers are quite different. They have different purposes, specific structure and writing styles, and citation formats given that they aim to communicate different kinds of information. Here are four key differences between research papers and review papers:
- Purpose: Review papers evaluate existing research, identify trends, and discuss the current state of knowledge on a specific topic; they are based on the study of previously published literature. On the other hand, research paperscontain original research work undertaken by the author, who is required to contribute new knowledge to the research field.
- Structure: Research papers typically follow a structured format, including key sections like the introduction, methods, results, discussion, and conclusion. Meanwhile, review papers may have a more flexible structure, allowing authors to organize the content based on thematic or chronological approaches. However, they generally include an introduction, main body discussing various aspects of the topic, and a conclusion.
- Methodology: Research papers involve the collection of data, experimentation, or analysis of existing data to answer specific research questions. However, review papers do not involve original data collection; instead, they extensively analyze and summarize existing studies, often using systematic literature review methods.
- Citation style: Research papers rely on primary sources to support and justify their own findings, emphasizing recent and relevant research. Review papers incorporate a wide range of primary and secondary sources to present a comprehensive overview of the topic and support the evaluation and synthesis of existing literature.
In summary, it’s important to understand the key differences between research papers and review papers. By mastering the art of writing both research papers and review papers, students and researchers can make more meaningful contributions to their chosen disciplines. All the best!
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What is the Difference between a Research Paper and a Review Paper?
What is the difference between a systematic review and a meta-analysis?
Review of the Journal’s Editing: Current State and Future Plans
Original research is the foundation of a research paper. Experiments, surveys, interviews, questionnaires, and other types of analysis may be used depending on the field or subject. Still, authors must collect and analyse raw data and perform an original report. The study and interpretation of this data will be the foundation of the research paper. A review article, also known as a review paper, is a piece of writing focused on previously published papers. It does not include any new studies. In general, review papers summarise the existing literature on a subject to clarify the current state of knowledge on the subject.
The terms “review paper” and “research paper” are not interchangeable. Both have similar characteristics and may even be related, but some variations exist. For Example, the research paper is an academic writing style in which the student must respond to an important, systematic, and theoretical level of questioning. Similarly, a review paper allows students to interpret what they have learned about the subject matter to demonstrate a thorough understanding by writing. For Example, it can be up to 5,000 words long and come in various formats (1) .
Regardless of the topic, a research paper has a basic structure: the title page, table of contents, introduction/background information, literature review, methodology, findings, discussion, and conclusions/recommendations. Individually these parts have their own set of writing guidelines. The framework is usually the same regardless of the issue question under investigation. This form of paper typically necessitates a significant amount of time for study and writing. There are several different study forms, each with its own characteristics based on data collection methods , such as interviews, observations, questionnaires, surveys, and experiments. Dependent on the volume and complication of the problem question, the analysis may take anything from a day to years, depending on the hypothesis and intent of the study.
On the other hand, a review paper is used to assess students’ awareness after they have learned a few topics. For Example, following the completion of a specific theme, students may be asked to compose an essay, take a test, or complete a task related to that theme. In addition, students are expected to write review papers to show that they have acquired the necessary knowledge and skills in a particular topic.
A review paper may be written in a critical essay on a current or common topic. The student or research scholar must provide their point of view on the subject while still showing an accurate and concise understanding of the topic when it is structured in this way. The article should have some convincing points and proof or data to back them up. Generally, a review paper is written to demonstrate that a student has studied or gained knowledge of a specific topic. The review paper is usually handed in at the end of the semester and accounts for a significant portion of the final exam. The length of a review paper is generally between 3,000 and 5,000 words (2) .
The key features of a Research paper
This type of scholarly writing entails delving into a subject concept to address a specific theoretical question. A standard text is 5,000 words long, although it is often longer. The student is expected to interpret and thoroughly analyse knowledge on a given subject. It can be assigned at any time, but most instructors assign it at the start of the semester to give students ample time to collect Information and draft their papers. This type of paper often includes the compilation of primary data and its subsequent analysis.
The Key Features of a Review Paper
A student writes this paper to illustrate their understanding of a specific topic. The job is generally between 3,000 and 5,000 words long. A chosen topic should be thoroughly investigated, and the writer should express their viewpoint on the subject at hand. This assignment is typically assigned at the end of the semester and directly impacts the final grade. Scholarly journals, academic works , lab papers, and textbooks should be used as references for the review paper.
The Differences between these research and review papers
Despite this, there are certain similarities between the two assignments. First, students should choose a subject that picks their interest in each case. They use the same tools, and the paper structures can be pretty similar. The main distinction between these two types of academic writing is that a research paper can be assigned at any time and does not usually count against a student’s final grade. Another consideration for writing teachers is that a research paper often includes a hypothesis, while a review paper typically supports a thesis assertion.
Furthermore, a research paper typically includes a lengthy list of references. On the other hand, the review paper assignment usually is shorter and does not have a conclusion. Another critical distinction between a research paper and a review paper is that a research paper encourages students to participate in problem-solving activities. In contrast, a review paper assesses the student’s expertise rather than necessarily solving the problem (3) .
The review and the research paper are types of writing in which the first is based on the second. Both are essential parts of literature and writing since they give readers a better understanding of the topic. Reviews and research papers can be obtained from a variety of outlets. Both are different in terms of duration and material. These papers must adhere to a set of guidelines. Anyone wishing to join the world of writing must possess strong reading and analytical abilities, which will aid in writing the review and research article.
Pubrica’s team of researchers and authors develop Scientific and medical research papers that can act as an indispensable tools to the practitioner/authors. Pubrica medical writers help you to write and edit the introduction by introducing the reader to the shortcomings or empty spaces in the identified research field. Our experts know the structure that follows the broad topic, the problem, and the background and advance to a narrow topic to state the hypothesis.
What are the suggestions given by peer reviewers in the introduction section of the original research article?
Is there a difference between the theoretical framework and conceptual framework of the study?
Give an Example of Studies that used the QUADAS-2 tool?
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- Open access
- Published: 21 October 2023
Dairy consumption in adults in China: a systematic review
- Shuhua Yang 1 , 2 , 3 ,
- Nupur Bhargava 1 , 2 ,
- Aileen O’Connor 1 , 2 ,
- Eileen R. Gibney 1 , 2 , 3 &
- Emma L. Feeney 1 , 2 , 3
BMC Nutrition volume 9 , Article number: 116 ( 2023 ) Cite this article
Research on dairy consumption in China is lacking, however, some evidence has demonstrated significant changes in recent years, with a reported increase in the overall consumption of dairy products. To fully understand these changes, a systematic review was conducted to examine reported dairy intakes and differences between dairy consumption in different population groups in China. Methods: Web of Science, Embase, and PubMed databases were searched for studies published from January 2000 to September 2022. The China National Knowledge Infrastructure (CNKI) was used to retrieve papers available in Chinese. Papers reporting dietary intakes of dairy consumption across age, sex, and geographical location sub-groups were considered for inclusion in this review. In addition, this review includes the consumption of different types of dairy foods and changes in dairy intake over time. Results: Forty-seven papers were included in the present study. Twelve papers examined dairy consumption across age groups, showing that middle-aged adults tend to consume less dairy than other age groups. Studies comparing across location-specific cohorts reported dairy intakes among urban populations were higher than rural, as well as being higher than the national average. Coastal, Northern and Eastern residents consumed more dairy products than those living in other regions of China, and people in larger cities had higher reported intakes than smaller cities. Milk was the primary dairy product reportedly consumed by Chinese population, followed by yogurt. Concerning sex, evidence showed that females generally reported a greater daily dairy intake than males. Conclusions: This review shows that, in China, several different population groups displayed significant differences in the amount and type of dairy consumed. When considering the incorporation of dairy products into healthy eating guidelines or positioning specific dairy products on the market, it is important to consider the differences and variations in consumption patterns within population groups.
Peer Review reports
Dairy foods such as milk, cheese and yogurt are recognized as important sources of beneficial nutrients, including vitamins D, B5 [ 1 ] and B12 [ 1 , 2 ], and minerals such as calcium [ 3 ], phosphorus, and potassium [ 1 ]. Many health benefits of dairy products are acknowledged [ 4 ], such as an impact on anthropometric measurements (i.e. weight, and waist circumference) [ 5 , 6 ]. Reduced risk of hypertension (HTN) linked to dairy consumption has also been reported, whereby peptides contained within milk have been shown to reduce blood pressure through inhibition of the angiotensin pathway [ 7 ]. One study, conducted in the USA, found that each additional serving of yogurt (227 g) was associated with a 6% reduced risk of incident HTN [ 8 ]. Similarly, in a large epidemiological study of Chinese adults, a significant association between a higher frequency of dairy consumption and reduced HTN was noted [ 9 ]. Higher intake of dairy was also reported to be associated with lower blood pressure levels in a sample of Chinese young women [ 10 ]. In addition, a study in China found that regular dairy consumption (≥ 4 days/week) was associated with a lower risk of ischemic heart disease (IHD) in males [ 11 ]. Evidence has also shown that consumption of dairy may offer protection against risk of other diseases such as metabolic syndrome [ 12 , 13 ], cardiovascular disease (CVD) [ 14 , 15 , 16 ], stroke [ 17 ], obesity [ 13 , 18 , 19 ], type 2 diabetes [ 20 ] and colorectal cancer [ 21 ]. However, although dairy products contain numerous beneficial nutrients, and their consumption may have a positive impact on health, there are still some concerns regarding the consumption of some dairy foods. Much of this concern is related to the saturated fatty acid (SFA) content, present in dairy products [ 22 ], known to be related to the risk of coronary heart disease (CHD) [ 23 ].
Recommendations concerning dairy consumption are given in many national nutrition and healthy eating guidelines [ 24 , 25 , 26 , 27 ]. In Ireland, as an example, the recommendation is 3 servings each day from the food group “milk, yoghurt and cheese” [ 24 ]. In the US, 3 daily servings of dairy products are recommended for US adults [ 25 ]. However, in Asian countries, recommendations for the consumption of dairy are lower than in western countries [ 28 , 29 , 30 ]. In China, a variety of dairy products, equivalent to 300ml of liquid milk per day, are recommended in the 2022 Chinese Dietary Guidelines CDGs [ 30 ].
Dietary patterns in China are known to differ quite significantly from those reported in other global regions including Europe and the US [ 31 , 32 , 33 , 34 , 35 ]. Traditional Chinese dietary patterns are represented by ‘Rice, vegetables, and meat’, while the ‘modern’ Chinese dietary pattern is represented by ‘fast food, milk and deep-fried food’ [ 34 ]. Similar differences are seen within the US, where two major dietary patterns has been identified from national surveys, one was ‘nonwhole grain, white potatoes, cheese, meat, discretionary oil and fat, and added sugar’, and another one was ‘whole grains, vegetable, fruits, fish, nuts and seeds’ [ 35 ]. Researchers in the US also compared Chinese dietary intakes to American diets, reporting that the Chinese diet had a lower daily intake of fiber, vitamins and some micronutrients than the American diet [ 33 ]. In China, whilst dairy products have been available and intakes of dairy have been rising in the past decades dairy consumption remains low compared to the recommended dietary guidelines for Chinese [ 36 , 37 ]. This low consumption is attributed to several factors, such as lack of refrigeration, limited supply and high prices and a traditional plant-based diet [ 38 , 39 ]. As a result of low intakes, in one study, dairy foods were found to contribute only 4.3% of calcium intake, with “vegetable, bean and bean products” as the main source of calcium [ 40 ]. This was relatively low compared to other countries. For instance, in Ireland, dairy contribute 38.8% of calcium to the total diet [ 41 ]. And in Poland, the contribution from dairy to total calcium intake was 54.7% in the average Polish diet [ 42 ]. However, another survey, conducted among an elderly cohort in Beijing, found that dairy products were the main contributor to calcium, contributing 34.5% among older adults aged 60 years and over [ 43 ], indicating that whilst overall consumption is low, considerable variance exists within the population.
In recent decades, the dairy industry in China has grown steadily, prompted by economic factors including the growth in household income, consumer preferences and the provision of financial support from the government [ 44 ]. However, due to existing eating habits, consumer preferences, and other historical factors such as traditional agricultural practices and dietary practices in different regions in China, variations in the consumption of dairy products exist in different sub-groups e.g. gender, location groups, which has been reported in several studies to date [ 45 , 46 , 47 , 48 ]. Understanding the variations in consumption may help to elucidate factors influencing intake, and support the development of strategies to increase consumption among specific population groups, in accordance with dietary recommendations [ 49 , 50 ]. For instance, in the US, food based recommendations have been developed for various age and gender groups providing food choices that will help the population group to meet nutritional recommendations [ 50 ].
The purpose of this paper was to systematically review existing literature reporting dairy consumption among the Chinese population, living in mainland China. The objectives of the study were to summarise the available literature providing information on dairy intakes in the Chinese population, to examine the differences in the consumption of dairy across different population sub-groups and to further identify the factors which contribute to the differences in consumption.
The present systematic review was carried out following the updated Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Review and Meta-analysis (PRISMA 2020) guidelines [ 51 ]. The protocol of this review was previously registered on PROSPERO (International Prospective Register of Systematic Reviews) (registration number: CRD42021285208).
Within this review, the term ‘dairy product’ is defined as milk, yogurt, milk powder, cheese, butter, cream or ice cream. The search strategy of this review followed the PICO framework, focusing on the differences in dairy consumption among different ages, geographic location sub-groups, sex groups among Chinese adults in mainland China, as well as the difference in consumption of the different types of dairy products and the overall changes in dairy consumption over time. The following search terms were used: Dairy OR Milk OR Cheese OR Yogurt OR Yoghurt OR Yoghourt OR Butter OR Cream OR Milk powder OR Food AND Intake OR Consumption OR Market OR Diet OR Dietary AND China OR Chinese OR Asian. The search was limited to studies carried out in human adults (≥ 18 years), written in English or Chinese languages. A manual search of references from included studies was also conducted. We used Google Scholar to retrieve papers where applicable. The China National Knowledge Infrastructure (CNKI) was also used to retrieve papers when the full-text papers were only available in Chinese. Two authors (S.Y. and N.B.) independently performed the literature search in Web of Science, Embase, and PubMed databases for papers published between January, 2000 and October, 2021. To ensure a focus on the most recent research regarding dairy consumption status, papers published before the year 2000 were not searched. An updated search of all the datasets was completed by one researcher (S.Y.) on 06 September 2022.
Study screening and eligibility criteria
Published papers examining dairy intake by considering mean intake, median intake, frequency of consumption, and/or percentage of Chinese adult consumers living in mainland China were included. Study designs that were considered in this review included but not limited to dietary intake assessment study, intervention study but reporting dairy intake of control group at baseline, and consumer behaviour papers that reported findings of dairy intakes. Papers reporting the findings related to comparison of dairy consumption across age, sex, and geographical location sub-groups, different types of dairy products, and different years were included in the analysis in the present review. Papers were excluded if the original study was conducted in Chinese group living in other countries except for China. Papers were excluded if there were only children and/or teenagers involved in the study. Papers that assessed intake of human milk only were excluded. Papers reporting intakes of dairy food groups but including irrelevant food such as egg were excluded. Papers, involving intervention studies but did not report dairy intake data of participants in general good health in control group at the baseline, were excluded. For papers that reported data for those aged < 18 and ≥ 18 years, only data from those over 18 years were considered in the analysis of this review where applicable. Two authors (S.Y. and N.B.) independently screened papers for eligibility firstly based on titles, then abstracts and finally full texts based on the predefined inclusion and exclusion criteria. In the case of disagreement, a third researcher (E.R.G.) was involved, and consensus on inclusion or exclusion was reached after discussion.
Data extraction and quality assessment
Papers included in the present review reported dairy consumption in varies ways. The following information were extracted by one author (S.Y.) firstly from the all the papers reporting dairy intakes: study characteristics (first author, publication year, sample size, study location, year of data collection, dietary assessment method); population demographic characteristics (age, sex); type of reported dairy food (total and / or individual food products if reported). For the studies using data from national survey (i.e. China Health and Nutrition Survey) without specifying study location, the survey location information was searched and taken from the survey website [ 52 ] or presented as national according to the dataset used in papers. Dietary assessment method for those papers missing relative information were taken from survey website [ 11 ] or other papers which used same survey dataset and provided more detailed information. Following, studies where they reported findings of intake differences between age groups were summarized together. Age groups in each study included in the present review were further specified and presented for the comparison within and between studies. Population size, and age details of total population and groups were displayed where applicable. Similarly, information of geographical location sub-groups, sex groups and consumption of different types of dairy products were extracted and summarized for comparison, and the changes of dairy consumption over time were also compared and presented. Basic calculation, such as counting the percentage of consumer based on the number given in papers, was conducted in this review for easier presenting and comparing of findings. Depending on the methods and analysis operated in published papers, the dairy intakes were reported in percentage of consumers, frequency of intake, mean/median intakes (g/d, kg/y, ml/d), range of intakes or descriptive sentences without statistical results in the key findings. The intake presented in this review was absolute amount of intake, not energy-adjusted. If more than one papers used data from the same study or dataset, data from the publication with the greatest detail of information were presented in this review. During the data collection, two authors (E.R.G. and E.L.F.) were involved when a paper needed to be discussed.
To assess risk of bias, the quality of the studies included in this review was examined. S.Y. performed the quality assessment. Given the various of study methods in those studies, the Critical Appraisal Skills Programme (CASP) checklist for Cohort Studies [ 53 ] was applied. The CASP checklist for Cohort Studies consists of several domains that evaluate key aspects of cohort study design, including the clarity of the research question, cohort selection, measurement of variables, consideration of confounding factors, follow-up periods, statistical analysis, and quality of results. 12 questions in the cohort study checklist was used. Two of the questions was scored up to 2 points. Total of 14 points was given if a study met all the criteria.
Literature search results and study characteristics
A total of 10,685 papers were searched from three databases after removing duplicates. Studies identified were screened based on titles and abstracts, and finally full texts of 375 papers including the 54 papers which were identified from the reference lists were assessed according to the inclusion and exclusion criteria. Ultimately, 47 papers were included in the present study. Full details of the search are outlined in Fig. 1 .
PRISMA flow diagram
Full characteristics of the papers and CASP scores from quality assessment are shown in Table 1 . Within the included papers, 24 papers reported findings on total dairy consumption. 16 papers investigated milk only. The remaining 7 papers investigated sub-groups of dairy products. Dairy intake data from 21 papers were draw from several national surveys conducted in China [ 46 , 47 , 54 , 55 , 56 , 57 , 58 , 59 , 60 , 61 , 62 , 63 , 64 , 65 , 66 , 67 , 68 , 69 , 70 , 71 , 72 ]. Within papers that reported the number of participants, sample sizes ranged from 117 to over 90,000. With respect to reported dietary intake assessment methodology, 24-hour dietary recalls [ 46 , 47 , 54 , 55 , 56 , 57 , 58 , 59 , 60 , 61 , 62 , 63 , 64 , 65 , 67 , 68 , 69 , 70 , 73 , 74 , 75 , 76 ], Food Frequency Questionnaires [ 71 , 72 , 77 , 78 , 79 , 80 , 81 , 82 , 83 , 84 , 85 , 86 , 87 , 88 ], Questionnaires or in-person interview [ 38 , 45 , 72 , 89 , 90 , 91 , 92 ], and Internet-based dietary questionnaire for Chinese (IDQC) [ 93 , 94 , 95 ] were used in the data collection in reported studies to assess overall diet.
Dairy consumption in different age groups
Of the 47 studies included in the final review, 12 reported dairy consumption across different age groups [ 45 , 46 , 47 , 55 , 62 , 63 , 64 , 65 , 69 , 73 , 79 , 89 ] (Table 2 ). In three studies, dairy consumption in those aged or average age over 60 were compared with other age cohorts [ 45 , 46 , 73 ]. Four studies focused on older cohorts aged over 50, with one reporting the differences in dairy intakes in those aged 50–70 [ 79 ], one that compared individuals aged 60–79 and 80 over [ 62 ], and three that compared ages 60–69 and 70 over [ 55 , 65 , 69 ]. One didn’t compare intakes between age groups but reported and compare the median age at low, high and non-consumer groups [ 64 ]. The other remaining studies included dairy consumption of working-age adults (20–59 years) [ 47 ], (18–59 years) [ 63 ], while one study used just 3 age groups to cover all ages (< 30, 30–50 and > 50) [ 89 ].
Of the three studies that compared dairy consumption in population groups aged under and over 60 years, two of these studies showed that people aged over 60 years reported consuming higher amounts [ 45 ], while had lower frequency of milk intake [ 46 ], compared to other age groups. Ba et al. [ 73 ] found that older adults had higher intakes of milk than younger adults with daily intakes reported in older adults (≥ 60 years) of 163.4 g/d, which was significantly greater than intakes reported in those aged 18–44 years and 45–59 years, with reported milk intakes of 75.8 and 96.6 g/d, respectively.
Focusing on people aged over 50 years, dairy consumption was reported in four studies. Xu et al. [ 55 ] reported that the median dairy intakes in males aged 60–69 years who consumed dairy in 2009 was 200 g/d, while the number in males aged 70 years and over was only 162 g/d. Likewise, Zong et al. [ 79 ] found that, within the age group 50–70 years, participants with higher intakes of dairy products were more likely to be of a younger age. In addition, Liu et al. [ 69 ] and Wang et al. [ 65 ] both found that people aged 70 years and over had significantly higher dairy intakes than those aged 60–69 years ( P < 0.001 and P < 0.05 separately), with average intakes in these two age groups of 39.57 and 28.49 g/d, respectively. Similarly, Huang et al. [ 62 ] compared differences in dairy consumption between the age groups 60–79 years and 80 years and over, reporting that people aged over 80 years consumed significantly more dairy. One of the largest studies, Tian et al. [ 47 ] assessed dietary intake in residents from 12 cities and provinces in 2004, 2006, 2009 and 2011, and analysed intakes across two age groups (20–39 years, 40–59 years). Within this study, those aged 40–59 years reported higher mean daily dairy intakes than those aged 20–39 years, with intakes of 14.2 ± 55.8 g/d and 13.0 ± 47.1 g/d in each age group, respectively. However, this difference was not significant ( P > 0.05). Similarly, results from the survey of Bai et al. [ 89 ], conducted in Qingdao city in 2005, showed that the people aged over 50 years consumed more milk than other age groups. However, these differences were not statistically tested, and only reported descriptively. Additionally, Wang et al. [ 63 ] analysed the national dairy consumption data from 1989 to 2011, finding that dairy consumers aged 40–59 years had higher average dairy intakes than adults aged 18–39 years in most of the years except in 1989, 1997 and 2011. Although, this difference was not significant ( P > 0.05).
Dairy consumption in different geographical location groups
Of the 13 studies reporting on dairy consumption across location-specific cohorts comparing people living in different cities or provinces, two papers focused on dairy consumption in individual cities [ 38 , 45 ], and eleven papers reported on dairy consumption in different regions of China classified by urban, rural; North, South, costal, inland; East, West, central; the size of city or economic status of rural area [ 46 , 47 , 56 , 63 , 64 , 65 , 67 , 68 , 71 , 72 , 79 ]. Table 3 summarises the characteristics and key findings of these papers.
Nine of the 11 papers examined dairy consumption between urban and rural areas, and reported higher intakes of dairy products in urban populations compared to those living in rural areas [ 47 , 56 , 63 , 64 , 65 , 67 , 68 , 72 , 79 ]. For example, Tian et al. [ 47 ] examined milk intakes from 12 cities or provinces in 2004, 2006, 2009, 2011 in China, and reported a greater mean intake of 30.9 g/d in urban populations, compared to only 5.1 g/d in rural residents. Zhang et al. [ 68 ] reported lower mean daily dairy intakes in a rural area in 2002 of 11.4 g/d, compared to 65.8 g/d in urban residents in the same study.
Wang et al. examined differences in reported dairy intakes from urban and rural areas from 1989 to 2011 using data from CHNS. The authors reported that urban residents had a significantly higher consumption than people living in rural areas across these years ( P < 0.0001) [ 63 ]. Most recently, He et al. reported a significant difference in high milk consumption in urban and rural areas among 31 provinces in China, with a high percentage of consumers (74.17%) are living in urban areas. The high milk consumption in this study was classified as ≥ 200 ml/day and ≥ 5 day/week [ 72 ]. In addition, one paper analyzed dietary intake data from national survey CHNS in 1991, 2000 and 2015, reporting a significant difference of mean daily intake between urban and rural residents with 40.4 g in urban areas and 10.6 g in rural areas ( P < 0.05) [ 65 ].
Of the papers that examining dairy consumption in other geographical location groups, Li et al. [ 67 ] compared milk intakes between coastal and inland areas, reporting that people living in coastal areas had higher milk intakes than those living in inland, reporting mean intakes of 32.65 and 25.62 g/d, respectively. Research also found that those living in Northern China reported higher milk intakes than those living in Southern China in three separate studies [ 38 , 67 , 79 ]. For example, Li et al. [ 67 ] found that, at a national level in 2002, those in northern regions consumed more milk than people living in southern regions, with reported intakes of 33.38 g/d and 22.24 g/d, respectively. A difference in dairy consumption was also found among people living in Eastern, Central and Western areas, where it was reported that people living in Eastern cities had significant higher intakes than people living in the other two areas [ 64 , 71 ]. Furthermore, only one study compared milk consumption according to the size of the city and type of rural area, demonstrating that people living in big cities consumed much more milk than those living in smaller sized cities and normal rural areas, with 64.3 g/d in big cities, 24.2 and 9.1 g/d in other areas respectively [ 46 ].
Dairy consumption in different sex groups
Table 4 summarises the results from 16 papers that considered differences in dairy consumption across reported sex groups (male and female). All but four of these papers reported higher dairy consumption in females than males [ 47 , 54 , 55 , 60 , 61 , 63 , 64 , 65 , 69 , 72 , 78 , 79 , 84 , 86 , 92 , 95 ]. Within those papers, eleven studies analysed data at the national level. Specifically, 8 papers analysed data from the national survey CHNS, while focusing on the different age groups and/or different collection years [ 47 , 54 , 55 , 60 , 61 , 63 , 64 , 65 ]. One used data from the CNHS study in 2010–2012 [ 69 ]. One study analyzed the data from CNSSPP [ 72 ]. In addition, one study conducted across different regions in China [ 92 ]. The other five studies were conducted in individual cities (Beijing, Shanghai or Guangzhou) [ 78 , 79 , 86 ], Tibet [ 84 ] or regional locations (northern China) [ 95 ].
At the national level, papers that studied the survey data in different years from 1989 to 2011 reported higher dairy intakes among females, with significant differences found by Wang et al. [ 63 ] and Tian et al. [ 47 ], whilst the difference between sexes was either not significant or not statistically tested in other papers [ 54 , 60 , 61 , 64 ].
Mirroring the findings from these national studies, Zong et al. [ 79 ] examined dairy consumption in males and females aged 50–70 years in Beijing and Shanghai in 2005, and found that females in this age group consumed higher amounts of dairy than males, with only 25.8% of those who consumed more than one serving of dairy foods per day being male. Sun et al. [ 78 ] collected information on milk consumption in older Chinese (aged over 50 years) in Guangzhou across two time periods ((Phase 1 (2003–2004) and Phase 2 (2005–2006)), and reported a slight difference between males and females, with 27% females and 25% males consuming over 250 ml whole cow’s milk per week, however, the results were not statistically analysed, and thus are observational. Guo et al. [ 95 ] examined the proportion of sexes across quartiles of reported dairy consumption in people living in northern China, finding that females had higher dairy intakes than males, with 47.23% males in Q1 (mean intake 6.42 ml/d), compared to 35.02% males in Q4 (mean intake 227.89 ml/d).
Four of the 16 papers examining differences in reported dairy intake across sex groups found that, for those who consumed dairy products, males had higher dairy intake compared to females with only one study reported significant difference [ 55 , 65 , 84 , 92 ]. Xu et al., who examined reported intakes using data from CHNS 2009 [ 55 ] reported that more males met the recommended intakes for dairy than females in older adults, with median intakes in males and females aged 60–69 years 200 g/d and 167 g/d respectively. However, the differences were not statistically tested, and only provided as descriptive figures. Another study, which collected data during the COVID-19 lockdown period from March to April 2020, which examined dietary behavior across China showed that males consumed milk more frequently ( P < 0.001) and more dairy in general compared to females [ 92 ]. Finally, another study examining intakes in the Tibetan plateau, showed greater consumption of dairy foods in males compared to females, however the amount of intake was not reported and statistically tested [ 84 ].
Consumption of different types of dairy products
Differences in the consumption of the different types of dairy products were reported in six papers [ 38 , 62 , 90 , 91 , 95 , 96 ] (Table 5 ). Two of the six studies reported the mean amount consumed or the range on intakes for milk, yogurt, milk powder and ice cream [ 38 , 90 ]. One reported the percentage of consumers of each product among people aged 60 years and over with a focus on milk, yogurt, milk powder and other dairy products [ 62 ]. The other three focused on specific products, namely; milk, yogurt and milk powder [ 95 ], milk and yogurt [ 91 ] and only milk and butter [ 96 ].
All six papers showed that participants had highest intake of milk among these types of dairy products in China. Fuller et al. [ 38 ], examining intakes in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou in 2001, reported that of the annual dairy products consumed, milk consumption was highest in these three cities, with yogurt consumption ranked second, followed by ice cream and milk powder. They also reported that younger, more educated participants consumed more yogurt, whilst elderly participants tended to consume more milk powder. Similarly, the other three studies also reported much higher milk consumption than other types of dairy products (yogurt, milk powder, butter) [ 91 , 95 , 96 ]. Silanikove et al. [ 96 ] reported remarkably lower annual intakes of butter than milk in 2011 with 0.1 kg/y of butter and 9.1 L/y of milk. More recently, Huang et al. [ 62 ] investigated the dairy consumption in 4921 participants aged 60 years and over, and reported the percentage of consumers of each type of dairy product, finding that milk and yogurt were the main dairy products consumed in this group. Yang et al. [ 91 ] who examined the dairy consumption among adults in China during the COVID-19 lockdown, reported that the median intakes of milk and yogurt were 71.5 ml/d and 17.8 ml/d separately.
Changes in dairy consumption over time
Seven papers report analysis of dairy consumption over time at a national level using data from CHNS [ 47 , 56 , 58 , 63 , 65 ], CNNHS [ 68 ] and NBS [ 66 ]. Of the five papers that analysed data from CHNS, one examined dairy intakes in adults aged 18–45 across 6 survey years (1989, 1991, 1993, 1997, 2000, 2004) [ 56 ], and one studied dairy intakes across four survey years (2004, 2006, 2009, 2011) among people aged 20–59 years [ 47 ]. Batis et al. [ 58 ] reported the percentage of consumers of animal-based milk during survey years 1991–2009. The other reported the dairy consumption data of adults aged 18–59 years, covering all of nine survey years (1989–2011) [ 63 ]. In addition, Wang et al. [ 65 ] examined dietary intake data in 1991, 2000 and 2015 among people aged ≥ 60 years in China. Data from these studies showed an increase in dairy intakes. For example, during the period 1989–2004, consumption of dairy products was reported to increase six-fold from 2 g/d to 12 g/d [ 56 ]. From 2004 to 2009, consumption of milk and its products then appeared to experience a decreasing trend, reaching its lowest consumption in 2009, of 25 g/d. However, from 2009 to 2011, reported intakes increased to 35 g/d, which was higher than that of the previous year [ 47 ]. Additionally, from 1991 to 2015, the average intake of dairy foods among elders had significant increase, with 8.0 g/d in 1991, 14.1 g/d in 2000 and 20.3 g/d in 2015 ( P < 0.001) [ 65 ].Of the other two papers, Fu et al. [ 66 ] reported increasing consumption of dairy products from NBS for both urban and rural areas from 1990 to 2010, with reported dairy intakes from 0.64 kg/y to 3.55 kg/y in rural area, 4.60 kg/y to 18.10 kg/y in urban area, whereas the dairy intakes in urban residents experienced a significant decline from 22.54 to 18.10 kg/y from 2006 to 2010. The remaining paper using the data from CNNHS reported a similar increase in reported intakes of dairy products from 1982, to 1992 and 2002, reporting intakes of 8.1, 14.9, and 26.5 g/d separately [ 68 ]. It also further reported the specific changes in urban and rural areas. Compared to rural areas, urban residents reported a significantly greater increase in dairy consumption during this period, with 9.9 and 65.8 g/d reported in 1992 and 2002 in urban groups, compared to 7.3 and 11.4 g/d in rural groups. When considering differences within individual provinces, one paper reported changes in dietary intakes from 1982 to 2012 in the Hunan province, reporting that dairy intakes experienced a rapid increase from 1982 (5.9 g/d) to 2002 (95.5 g/d), but this then decreased to 16.6 g/d in 2012 [ 75 ].
In addition, researchers examined the changes of eating habits in elderly residents during COVID-19 lockdown in March 2020 in Wuhan city in China, finding that dairy consumption was reduced during this period [ 85 ]. Specifically, a 24.5% reduction was observed among males, and 45.3% among females. Considering age groups, dairy consumption reduced by 38.8% in 60–69 year old, 40.0% in 70–79 year old and 25% in those aged 80 and over.
Based on published literature between 2000 and 2022, which reported the consumption of total or individual dairy foods in China, some consumption patterns of dairy can be observed. Our review found noteworthy differences in dairy consumption across population groups of age, geographic location and sex, as well as differences by type of dairy. Specifically, milk and yogurt were reported to be the main dairy foods consumed in China with milk powder playing an important role in the intake of dairy in older adults. In terms of sex-related differences in dairy consumption, evidence showed that females had higher intakes than males. Clear patterns of dairy emerged across different geographical locations. The intake of dairy products among the urban population was higher than rural areas and also greater than the national average. Furthermore, coastal citizens and those in northern and eastern regions consumed more dairy products than others. Meanwhile, residents in larger cities had higher intakes than smaller cities or rural area. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first systematic review to summarise reported dairy intakes to determine factors that influence the consumption of dairy in different groups in China.
When examining dairy intake in the studies, both total dairy and also the following individual dairy foods were considered: milk, yogurt, ice cream, milk powder, butter. Much of the reporting considered total dairy and did not break down reported intakes into these individual dairy foods. From studies included in this review, milk, yogurt and milk powder were the main dairy foods reported among Chinese adults. In contrast, consumption of butter and cheese were particularly low, albeit data on these dairy products is limited. It is important to note that comparisons of reported intake of total and specific dairy products across studies are often challenging due to the manner in which dairy can be grouped and/or reported in many studies. For example, in a previous study in Poland, the main reported dairy foods were ‘Milk’, ‘Cheese and cottage cheese’, and ‘Yoghurt and milk drinks’ [ 97 ]. Similarly, a study in America grouped milk, cheese and yogurt into ‘total dairy’, excluding other dairy products [ 98 ]. In Korea, one study analysed the national data (from 2007–2009) and defined dairy products as a ‘combination of milk and yogurt’, without cheese being included, due to the extremely low consumption of cheese [ 99 ]. With such differences in the definition of dairy and grouping of dairy foods, caution must be given to comparisons across studies, since the intakes of dairy are dependent on the definition used within each study. To overcome these issues, the present review also reported on individual dairy foods when possible.
In terms of the individual dairy foods consumed, this review showed that milk was the largest contributor to dairy consumption in China, similar to other countries such as Australia [ 100 ] and Spain [ 101 ]. The present review also found that intake of yogurt was the second highest of dairy consumption, with younger and more educated consumers purchasing more yogurt than others [ 38 ]. This is different to intakes reported in other countries, where for example yogurt and fermented milk consumed among people aged 18–64 years in Spain, was less than older adults (64–75 years) [ 102 ]. In addition, data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination survey 1999–2004 in the US showed that consumption of cheese instead of yogurt ranked second among adults [ 103 ]. In contrast to western countries, we found that the consumption of cheese and butter was exceedingly low and was hardly examined in reported dairy intakes in China. One possible reason is that cheese and butter are relatively new to the market, and mostly imported, which may lead to the higher price than milk and other dairy products [ 44 ]. This may go some way to explain why consumers of these products are mostly limited to the younger and wealthier population [ 44 ]. However, more work is needed to fully understand this finding. Significant differences in the consumption of milk powder were also noticeable in the papers reported in this review. Within three identified studies reporting milk powder consumption in different survey years and locations, and among different age groups, we found that milk powder played a particular role in the diet of the Chinese population. Evidence showed that milk powder was consumed by many older adults. Before the purchase of milk and yogurt became convenient and modern refrigeration availability improved, milk powder was the most practical dairy product for consumption in China [ 38 ].
This review identified 16 papers that reported differences in dairy intakes across sex groups. Most of the available evidence showed the females had higher intakes of dairy foods than males, although not all the studies reported or conducted statistical analysis. The association between gender and dairy consumption was also observed in other recent studies examining dietary intakes in Europe [ 104 , 105 ]. One study evaluated dairy intake pattern in older adults across Europe including 16 European countries, and reported that males had lower intakes of dairy than females [ 104 ]. In addition, Pellay et al. [ 105 ] analysed the socio-demographic characteristics and dietary intake among the elderly in France, finding that women were more likely to have the highest frequency of consumption of dairy foods, including milk and fresh dairy products, which also indicates that sex was a factor associated with dairy consumption. Sex has been noted as a factor which is related to dietary habits. A previous study of dietary status in China found that male participants had significantly higher consumption of vegetables, cereal, meat and legumes than females [ 47 ]. Interestingly, there was one study that reported higher dairy consumption in males than females and found that more males met the recommended intake of dairy, but these differences were not found to be significant. Since this paper didn’t give additional details of the two sex groups, we were not able to identify the reason for this result [ 55 ]. The factors that contributed to the difference of dairy consumption in females and males still need to be further investigated, but it’s clear that sex differences exist in dairy consumption in China. It is also important to note that the results in the included papers were not energy-adjusted. Therefore with the findings showing that females tend to consume higher amount of dairy than males, this need to be taken into consideration.
Associations between different regions and dairy consumption in China are considered in this present review. Based on the available papers’ comparisons across different location sub-groups including urban v rural, north south east and west, costal vs. inland, and size of city were examined. One of the main findings was that people living in urban areas had a significantly higher consumption of dairy than those living in rural areas, and this gap appears to have existed for a long time period. For example, data from a national survey in 2002 reported that the mean dairy intakes among urban residents were 65.8 g/d, whereas the amount in rural was only 11.4 g/d [ 67 ]. More recently, in 2011, the dairy intake in urban population was 52.52 ± 115.47 g/d while it was only 8.53 ± 43.38 g/d in rural area [ 63 ], suggesting no change in either of these areas. Similarly, people living in a large or even a small size city had a much higher consumption of dairy compared to those in rural areas. There are many possible reasons behind these findings such as differences in income, education level and convenience [ 38 ], which need to be explored further. People living in urban areas usually have higher incomes and are more likely to have higher education, which may have contributed to the rapid increase in consumption of dairy [ 44 ]. More supermarkets and therefore, availability of dairy products in urban areas means more choice and availability of high-quality dairy products for these population groups, which may have contributed to this difference [ 106 ]. In addition, lack of knowledge of the importance or impact of dairy products on health (or risk of disease) may also be a contributor to low dairy consumption behavior in people living in rural area [ 107 ]. The evidence also demonstrated that northern and costal populations consumed more dairy than those living in southern areas and inland cities. Compared to eastern and central regions, people living in western cities had lower dairy consumption. These differences might be due to the difference in geographic environment, food resources, social culture, and economic disparities in these regions [ 71 ]. For example, coastal and northern cities were opened to foreigners in the nineteenth century, and evidence has shown that greater exposure to western culture had a positive influence on dairy consumption [ 108 ]. Therefore, the impact of western culture on dietary patterns in those regions could be in part responsible for these differences.
Knowledge of these differences in the amount (and type) of dairy products consumed across regions, sex and age groups are of importance, as it is known that the type, and amount of dairy products consumed, can have different effects on human health [ 109 , 110 ]. Dairy foods vary considerably in their nutrient compositions [ 109 ] and, evidence shows that health effects are substantially modified by the food matrix. For example, one previous study found that, dairy fat consumed in the matrix of cheese resulted in significantly lower low density lipoprotein (LDL) and total cholesterol compared with the same components eaten in the matrix of butter [ 110 ]. Many of the studies identified in the present review only considered the consumption of total dairy. The studies which did examine individual dairy foods reported considerable differences in consumption of these products within China, which merits further investigation [ 38 , 90 , 94 ]. We would therefore recommend that future studies capture and report details of intakes of individual dairy foods. Although dairy intakes in China have increased greatly [ 47 ], much of the data was old and more recent data was not found in published papers. With the constant change in dietary habits and more choices within food products within China, such as non-dairy plant-based milk alternatives, which are being adopted by a growing number of consumers, it is possible that a reduction of some dairy products in the Chinese population may be observed.
Whilst this review comprehensively examined the available literature, due to the complexities in reporting discussed previously, and the limited number of papers for the question being considered, the findings reported here are limited and merit further investigation. This review only presented the findings from existing comparison within the studies, therefore no analysis was conducted to compare across the studies. And there might be some published studies not identified for inclusion in this review due to the search terms used in our search. Furthermore, although limited to papers published since 2000, many of the studies use older datasets, and it is likely that dairy intakes have changed considerably and work on more recently collected data is needed. Therefore, there is a need for a detailed analysis of more recent intake data, to determine if the trends reported here are a true reflection of the current status. In addition, in this present review, we only focused on the influence of key factors - age, gender and regions which were most frequently studied and reported in published studies to investigate the difference in dairy consumption in the population group. Many other factors could be examine in future reviews.
Regardless of these limitations, this review demonstrates clear differences in consumption of different types of dairy products, and in population groups (such as males and females, age groups, urban and rural residents). When considering incorporation of dairy consumption into healthy guidelines, it is important to note these differences, and adapt recommendations and promotions accordingly. Furthermore, more detail on how dairy is specifically consumed within the diet is needed, which would support further development of nutrition recommendations through modelling scenarios for differing population groups.
This review has shown deviations in dairy intake across different population groups in China, including age, sex, and geographic location as well as across the different types of dairy products. The main findings of this review demonstrate that middle-aged adults tend to consume less dairy than other age groups, females in generally had higher intakes of dairy foods than males, and that milk and yogurt and milk powder are the main types of dairy products consumed in China. Whilst this review highlighted some novel and interesting findings, it also highlights a detailed lack of understanding of the use of dairy within the diet, and differences in the dairy consumption among different population groups.
Availability of data and materials
The datasets used and/or analysed during the current study available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.
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This work was supported by Food for Health Ireland and China Scholarship Council. The funding bodies had no role in the decision to publish. S.Y. is funded by Food for Health Ireland which is a research organisation that receives funding from Enterprise Ireland, grant number TC20180025, and from members of the Irish dairy industry, and funded by the China Scholarship Council.
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Food for Health Ireland, University College Dublin, Dublin 4, Republic of Ireland
Shuhua Yang, Nupur Bhargava, Aileen O’Connor, Eileen R. Gibney & Emma L. Feeney
Institute of Food and Health, University College Dublin, Dublin 4, Republic of Ireland
School of Agriculture and Food Science, University College Dublin, Dublin 4, Republic of Ireland
Shuhua Yang, Eileen R. Gibney & Emma L. Feeney
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E.R.G., E.L.F. and S.Y. designed the study. S.Y. and N.B. carried out the literature search and screening, and S.Y., N.B., and E.R.G. reviewed articles for inclusion. S.Y. drafted the paper. E.R.G., E.L.F., N.B. and A.O’C. contributed to writing the paper.
Correspondence to Emma L. Feeney .
Ethics approval and consent to participate.
In this present review, 40 papers reported data from national surveys, with existing ethical approval, or specifically reported ethical approval for the analysis presented. 2 papers reported to be conducted in a sub-sample of Household Income and Expenditure Survey (HIES), and as such would be covered by ethical approval within the original study, although this was not explicitly reported. 2 studies both appear to have conducted market research surveys, which did not seek ethical approval, but received permission from the retailer to administer questionnaires to customers. Finally, 3 studies did not report any details on ethical approval.
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E.R.G. and E.L.F. and A.O’C. have previously received travel expenses and speaking honoraria from the National Dairy Council, UK. E.R.G. and E.L.F. have received research funding through the Food for Health Ireland project, funded by Enterprise Ireland, grant number TC20180025. The funders had no role in the analyses or interpretation of data; in the writing of the manuscript or in the decision to publish the findings. The other two authors(S.Y. and N.B.) do not have competing interests.
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Yang, S., Bhargava, N., O’Connor, A. et al. Dairy consumption in adults in China: a systematic review. BMC Nutr 9 , 116 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40795-023-00781-2
Received : 20 October 2022
Accepted : 12 October 2023
Published : 21 October 2023
DOI : https://doi.org/10.1186/s40795-023-00781-2
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