I’ve found a published review like the one I want to do…help!

It is quite common that you come up with a research question for your dissertation review, or for a review you wanted to publish and then you find a systematic review on the same subject has already been published- can you still go ahead anyway?  There is a simple answer and a more complicated answer.  If you don’t mind thinking of a brand new question the simple answer is no, don’t go ahead.  However, the reason you are asking what you can do about the situation suggests that you want to hold onto your question despite finding this other review.  That makes the situation a little more complicated.

First I’ll describe what a review is, and then I will discuss why repeating a review is inappropriate, and then what you can do if you just can’t let go of your idea.

A review is form of research.  It allows you to bring together information from a variety of sources and synthesise it.  A synthesis is when you combine component parts to create a whole.  Usually the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. In a review you find as much information as you can that will help you generate an answer to your research question.  Often you are asked to restrict the information type to peer reviewed primary research studies – studies in which data has been collected.  You decide during the critical appraisal phase whether the primary research is trustworthy, and it is you include it in your synthesis.

A review is conducted when the research question can be answered by combining (synthesising) the results of already published primary research.  Its no good trying to answer a question by review if there is very little or no primary research.  If there is very little primary research then you would need to do primary research.  If someone has already answered your research question by undertaking a review then you won’t find anything different to them – so it is pointless repeating what has already been done.  However, of course there are exceptions to this rule and that is how we arrive at the third part of this blog -reasons to go ahead anyway.

  • A review has been conducted a relatively short while ago but since then there have been a number of new primary research papers published – then you should go ahead and update the previous review.
  • The review was poor quality or didn’t include all the relevant primary research – then you can go ahead and do a better job.
  • The review was broad in scope – then you can identify a similar question that enables you to take a new perspective on the topic.

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