Fink, Arlene. Conducting research literature reviews: from the Internet to paper. 2nd ed. London: Sage Publications Ltd., 2005. xiii, 245 p. ISBN 1-4129-0904-X. £23.00
This second edition of a guide (and a training book) on reviewing the literature defines a research literature review as, 'a systematic explicit, and reproducible method for identifying, evaluating, and synthesizing the existing body of completed and recorded work produced by researchers, scholars, and practitioners'. (p. 3)
The purposes and aims of research reviews can be different and the author of the book tries to address this variety. On the other hand, review writing for any purpose is conducted in several standard stages: selecting sources for searching the literature, searching it, organizing the results of search, evaluating retrieved items and selecting the sample for review, analysing and synthesising the results, and actual writing of the review. These steps are introduced in a coherent manner and the most important landmarks as well as a range of methods to achieve the objectives of various stages are described. According to the author the most important feature of the research review is the explicit statements of objectives and research questions and clear justification of selection criteria, evaluation standards, techniques and methods of analysis and synthesis.
The book provides a concise but quite full description of literature retrieval. The useful feature is also the links to online resources, online reviews, tips for selecting and searching online resources.
Close attention is paid to the inclusion and exclusion criteria for retrieved literature, especially quality screening. Fink even provides descriptions of different research designs, such as experimental (concurrent controls and random assignments, concurrent controls without random assignment, etc.) or observational (cohort designs, case control, cross-sectional, etc.); various sampling and data collection methods, ways to check validity and reliability or significance of studies.
The quality of the research review depends not only on the retrieval and selection quality, but also on the quality and coherence of literature representation and presentation of findings. The author also addresses the issues of concerted work of several reviewers.
The book consists of five chapters. Each follows a standard format and starts with a Reader's guide (i.e., detailed contents of the chapter). This enables the reader to access only certain parts in each chapter without reading it in full. The author provides a statement of purpose for each chapter and also highlights the particular parts of the flow diagram of 'Steps involved in conducting a research literature review' addressed in the chapter. Each issue discussed in the chapter is clearly separated from any other by headings and lines. The case studies are presented on grey background, the exercises at the end of the chapters are printed using a different font style. The chapter ends with summary of key points. There is also a list of general references, notes or other relevant materials. When reading I sometimes felt that a variety of formatting features is distracting rather than helping to concentrate on the reading. But it may be helpful when seeking information on separate issues.
I think that many people will never think of making any literature review for any purpose, but those who have to do so this will find this book very helpful. In general, it can be used successfully in many doctoral studies programmes as a useful tool for training reviewing skills in future researchers.
Dr. Elena Macevičiūtė