Literature Reviews and the Hermeneutic Circle
Boell, Sebastian K., Cecez-Kecmanovic, Dubravka, Australian Academic & Research Libraries
Literature reviews are a vital part of any research project. Librarians often play an important role in supporting academics in their search for literature and in training neophyte researchers in literature research techniques. The service librarians provide in this context extends beyond searching and includes, for example, advising on and providing access to appropriate literature. At times, it can be difficult to provide young researchers with a proper understanding of the whole literature review process.
Librarians and information professionals use and teach others to use a wide range of skills for identifying and locating literature. They draw on different techniques when searching, including search operators and field search. They rely on search strategies for making their attempts more focused and for identifying additional literature. They assist in obtaining relevant literature in print, electronically, and through other libraries. Furthermore, they rely on and train others in using supportive tools for managing references, for instance, using software like Endnote or Refworks. Moreover, they are proficient in using and educating others in the use of professional literature research databases like Scopus, Web of Science, or ScienceDirect.
Literature reviews are of importance to academics in all fields (Bensman, 2007), with librarians often assisting academics in locating literature for their reviews and their research (McKibbon, 2006). In most cases literature reviews are an integral part of research publications, but they can also constitute a research publication on their own fight (Garfield, 1987). Over the last decade, an increasing number of authors have started to use structured approaches for compiling literature reviews known as systematic reviews (Chalmers & Altman, 1995). Such an approach was first used in medicine (since the mid 1990s) but is now spreading to other disciplines. Authors of systematic reviews claim that selecting the literature for a review in a structured way leads to unbiased, complete, and reproducible reviews (Kitchenham & Charters, 2007).
This article questions the claims that any selection of the literature can be 'unbiased, complete and reproducible' and argues that in most cases, a review of relevant literature cannot be achieved following a structured approach. As an alternative, it introduces a hermeneutic approach towards literature reviews. Seeing a literature review as a hermeneutic process makes it evident that there is no final understanding of the relevant literature, but a constant re-interpretation leading (ideally) to deeper and more comprehensive understanding of relevant publications. It argues that especially in the social science and humanities literature, reviews are better understood as a continuing, open-ended process through which increased understanding of the research area and better understanding of the research problem inform each other. Although the hermeneutic approach is more obvious in the social sciences and humanities, it is not limited to these fields.
The main purpose of this paper is to identify deficiencies of the systematic review and propose a hermeneutic circle framework to overcome them. The hermeneutic framework is of interest to researchers as well as for those who teach and assist others in their quest for literature. In order to exemplify the practical relevance of the framework, it will briefly discuss some practical literature research methods. However, it does not provide an extensive introduction into such techniques, only aiming to provide an overview of different techniques that can be further extended by researchers and those training novice researchers.
This paper aims to a) contribute to better understanding of the literature review process by drawing from hermeneutics, and b) proposes a model of the literature review as a hermeneutic circle including …
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Publication information: Article title: Literature Reviews and the Hermeneutic Circle. Contributors: Boell, Sebastian K. - Author, Cecez-Kecmanovic, Dubravka - Author. Journal title: Australian Academic & Research Libraries. Volume: 41. Issue: 2 Publication date: June 2010. Page number: 129+. © 2007 Australian Library and Information Association. COPYRIGHT 2010 Gale Group.
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