As a medical writer, one of the biggest weapons in your arsenal is a well-written, well-researched literature review. It is one of the most wonderful documents that can produce a wealth of information when used right.
Suffice it to say, that producing a reputable, factually accurate, and up-to-date literature review that represents the level of knowledge in the industry is not an easy task. To do this, you will need to know how to assess research methods, detect clinical data patterns, and perform a systematic evaluation of the literature. This article’s goal is to assist you in doing just that.
We will define a systematic literature review, discuss its significance, and provide instructions for conducting one successfully in this blog article. We will also discuss how to forecast future trends in clinical data and examine several approaches for assessing clinical research studies.
Systematic Literature Review: The best data tool?
A systematic literature review is a thorough way to assess every research study that is accessible on a specific subject. This method entails formulating a research question, employing a systematic search strategy to find pertinent studies, and assessing each study according to its caliber, applicability, and overall impact on the field.
A systematic literature review’s main goals are to pinpoint knowledge gaps that currently exist and compile the best available data. You may make sure that you are appropriately portraying the level of knowledge in your profession and that you are not unintentionally endorsing unproven theories or claims by carefully reviewing the literature.
According to a research paper on literature reviews, “A literature review can be viewed as a literature investigation.” This quote shows how an ideal literature review can be more than just a recounting of what’s been done. A literature review is like an investigation. The results paint a comprehensive picture of the current and previous research and where the industry, as a whole, is going.
The reason why we do literature review is not because of merely a regulatory requirement anymore. We do it because the benefits outweigh the costs and resources.
Techniques and Methods to a Better Literature Review?
Writing integrative literature reviews is in itself a scientific process. There are several ways of doing it. One of the easy processes is to follow a structure. Really, structure is the basis of every step of writing literature reviews. The more you adhere to a well-structured approach, the better outcome you will have.
First, figure out what you are searching for in your literature review. Create a question or keywords that you use to search in the databases. This will direct your search approach and the inclusion and exclusion criteria for research. Subsequently, design a methodical approach for searching and reviewing literature regarding your subject. This could entail looking through reference lists of pertinent papers by hand as well as databases like PubMed, Scopus, and Web of Science.
There are some frameworks you can use for all of these steps. The structure of Search, Appraisal, Synthesis, and Analysis (SALSA) is one method. This ensures the accuracy, systematization, completeness, and reuse of the method. Most journal articles use this method. There are other methods as well. (PSALSAR) framework adds two steps, Protocol and Reporting results with Search, Appraisal, Synthesis, and Analysis framework. This is also a good framework to follow.
Of course, there are different methods and techniques for each individual step. One of the most useful ones for a good literature review is different searching techniques.
Here are some of them you could try:
This approach involves manually or physically searching through tables of contents in physical libraries or in hard copy materials in physical spaces like offices. No one really does this anymore unless you are looking for really older journals or books that aren’t on the internet.
This technique involves looking for literature that has been referenced in other works. When you find a research paper really relevant to your research, go and see what other articles have been cited in the bibliography or reference section or whether this article has been cited by other authors. You could also check the literature review section. This will give you a nice list of scholarly articles to base your search on. Next, you will have to find more recent papers on the same or similar subject.
In a literature search, a theme-based search with the usage of subject headers is essential. The whole method depends on you understanding the topic in depth. This is a good way to search for relevant research paper on medical devices.
This works more like a spider web than the spider itself. Here you first do a broad search and pick some research paper that matches your criteria. Based on what has been found, a second search is conducted to obtain more details. One way to conduct additional research on a referenced publication would be to look up additional works by the cited author in the citation list. An approach is known as a “backward spider.” If you are using this methodological approach, try to search for peer reviewed articles.
Truncation and wildcard searching:
If you would like to broaden your search, and most of the time you do, this approach allows you to narrow or broaden the search parameters. Finding terms, both singular and plural or keywords with different endings are made possible by truncation. Combining search words with Boolean operators, AND, OR, and NOT, makes it simple to apply truncations and wildcards.
During your literature search, you need to critically evaluate each study for quality and relevance after you have selected possible studies for inclusion.
After that, all that’s left to do is compile the results of all the included research papers and check for patterns, discrepancies, and areas where the data is lacking. This stage is essential because it might identify areas that require more research and assist in constructing a coherent overview of the body of knowledge already available on your subject.
Predicting Clinical Data Trends
Now, here is when things get a little tricky. Predicting the course of future research and recognizing new patterns in clinical research is not as cut and dry as literature review writing. Examining recent research, going to seminars and conferences, and building relationships with other scientists in your area can all help achieve this.
For example, imagine you have an interest in diabetes research. One possible place to start would be reading up on the latest research in that field. You will begin to notice patterns as you read.
There is another thing to notice: gaps in the research. This may indicate the direction in which research is moving; perhaps this understudied area will be the subject of the upcoming study wave. For example, if your research reveals that while fewer studies are examining patients’ individual experiences with diabetes, a large portion of present research is mostly based on numerical data and hard statistics. Here’s a hint: the next big thing in research could be more qualitative, patient-focused studies. Also, there are some excellent data analysis tools out there. Analyze the data you collect for the literature review, especially the new research papers and clinical trials, and you should get a clearer picture of where the research is going or what is clearly missing. Hence, you can predict with some degree of accuracy what the future of diabetes research would hold.
That being said, there is really no alternative to staying current with the most recent clinical trials and research papers. Analyzing the findings can help you spot patterns, trends, and knowledge gaps when new research comes to light. The good thing is that these are the things you do when you update your literature review. So, focusing on the lit review, you are gaining more than a glimpse of what happened in recent years. You are also gaining an understanding of what will happen in the next few.
- Mengist, W., Soromessa, T., & Legese, G. (2020). Method for conducting systematic literature review and meta-analysis for environmental science research. MethodsX, 7, 100777. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.mex.2019.100777
- Chigbu, U. E., Atiku, S. O., & Du Plessis, C. C. (2023). The Science of Literature Reviews: Searching, Identifying, selecting, and Synthesising. Publications, 11(1), 2. https://doi.org/10.3390/publications11010002