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Mini Literature Review: A new type of literature review article


Dr. Lorna Collins, Editor-in-chief

Every PhD scholar is required to complete a literature review as part of their research study. However, relatively few of these reviews are published. In an effort to increase the number and quality of literature reviews being published in the field of family business JFBM has innovated a new type of literature review summary article which is somewhat different from the typical ‘literature review article.’

Literature review articles are published as free-standing articles in journals and while they are incredibly useful there are relatively few of these articles. The number of PhD students in family business has increased tremendously yet still we see relatively few full literature review articles published. Literature reviews are vital to keeping scholars informed. We know that large numbers of scholars in emerging countries don’t have access to the full range of refereed journals and it is important that we accelerate the distribution of current thinking. We also want to encourage new scholars to publish by making the literature review a more accessible medium of publication.

The Mini Literature Review is designed to encourage new scholars with new thinking to publish their work quickly and easily. It is also hoped that this format will improve the quality of literature reviews contained within other published articles. So for our purposes we, at JFBM, would like to see articles that contain recent works. In particular the Mini Literature Review should, where relevant and appropriate, contain papers from conference proceedings and workshops and also industry or trade publications and research, current sources of research need to be covered and included.

The object of the Mini Literature Review article is to highlight a particular topic or series of linked topics in a quick and easy way; highlighting where the gaps are in the literature; and highlighting where there are areas for research development.

Requirements

There are five types of literature review summary article which JFBM will accept. Each has a different focus and feel and has particular specifications.

1. Definitional focus. This article is focused on the definition of a topic or term and aims to answer the question of ‘what do we really mean when we say’ , for example, ‘corporate social responsibility.’ This article will provide a detailed discussion of the many different definitions and considerations of definition for a particular topic. Primarily its focus is on how a particular topic might be evolving or how a particular topic might be being spoken of and treated in a certain way within family business but is being used differently in another area of study. Furthermore this article would pose the various ways in which a term, e.g. family business, might be considered. What are the parameters of the definition? It might be size, ownership, age, etc. This article seeks to provide clear guidance about what one needs to consider when developing a particular research area.

2. Narrative focus. The focus of this article is to highlight a particular area of study to show the theoretical development of the subject over time, or to focus on the subject at the present time – a ‘state of the subject’ approach.

3. Scholar focus. The focus of this article is to highlight the work of a particular scholar. So this article would choose the work of a particular scholar, e.g. John Davis, and then explain how his work had developed over time and to wrestle with the author’s arguments/philosophies and provide a coherent critique of them.

4. Evaluative focus. The focus of this article is to highlight the quality, depth, value, range and spread of the literature in a particular topic. The aim of these articles is to provide detailed information about the value of the research available.

5. Relational focus. The focus of this article is to highlight the relationship between different approaches and which aims to provide a detailed picture of how the various studies identified have contributed to the subject landscape:

   a. Methodological approaches
   b. Theoretical approaches
   c. Macro versus micro approaches
   d. Longitudinal versus snap-shot approaches

Length

How long should the Mini Literature Review be? Maximum length of article is 8000 words including references. To a certain extent the topic will dictate the size of the article. Shorter articles are welcomed. The Mini Literature Review needs to follow one of the proscribed templates outlined below.

Criteria

All reviews must be:
   – Accurate: e.g., Citations correct, findings attributed to authors correct.
   – Complete: i.e., Include all important papers (but not necessarily every paper written on the topic – depending on the focus).

The types of references/citations/sources that an article should include:

• Journal articles 
• Internet sources; Use only refereed electronic journals.
• Conference proceedings: Latest research, but not yet published as full papers.
• Government and corporate reports.
• Theses and dissertations. 
• Books.
• Annual Reviews.

What questions must any Mini Literature Review answer?

   • What are the inconsistencies and other shortcomings of the theory?
   • What needs further testing because evidence is lacking, inconclusive, contradictory, limited?

Does a Literature Review Summary need an abstract?

Yes, it does:

The abstract needs to descriptive in nature. It needs to summarize the subject of the review and the approach the reviewer has taken in his or her coverage of the subject. This type of abstract does not report original findings.

Abstract Structure

The abstract for the literature review summary should follow this structure:

   • Topic (mandatory)
   • Type of review (mandatory)
   • Main focus (mandatory)
   • Gaps identified (mandatory)
   • Conclusions (mandatory)
   • Practical implications (if applicable)
   • Policy implications (if applicable)
   • Relevance (mandatory)

Detailed templates for each literature review summary format

1. Definitional Focus

This article is focused on discussing the definition of a topic or term and aims to answer the question of ‘what do we really mean when we say …,’ for example, ‘corporate social responsibility.’ This article will provide a detailed discussion of the many definitions and considerations of definition for a particular topic. Primarily its focus is on how a particular topic might be evolving or how a particular topic might be being spoken of and treated in a certain way within family business but is being used differently in another area of study. Furthermore this article would pose the various ways in which a term, e.g. family business, might be considered. What are the parameters of the definition? It might be size, ownership, age, etc. This article seeks to provide clear guidance about what one needs to consider when developing a particular research area.

Using the example of ‘family business’ here is an example template for a definitional focus literature review summary article:

1. Introduction. Explain the concept or construct that you are going to explore. History. When we did first mention ‘family business’. In what articles.  

2. Context. Provide a clear and specific context. Are you looking at ‘family business’ as it relates to ownership? Size? What are the different parameters that need to be considered?

3. Problem/Consideration. What are the problems with defining ‘family business’? Why do we have so many/few definitions? What is the key defining factor/requirement/consideration? 

4. Solution/Resolution.  What are the solutions to the definitional challenge? What considerations do you need to make when choosing the definition of family business for your research study?

5. Gaps. Are there are considerations in respect to the definition that have not been considered? Are there any factors that may impact on current definitions?

6. Conclusion/Discussion. So what? Why is it important that we understand the construct/term/concept in the ways explained?

7. Relevance. This section explains the relevance of this article to others: scholars; practitioners; policy makers.


2. Narrative Focus

The article tells the story of a particular area of study to show the theoretical or conceptual development of the subject over time, or to focus on the subject at the present time – a ‘state of the subject/construct’ approach.

Some examples:

   • What is the current state of our understanding of ‘familiness?’
   • What is social capital and why is it so popular now?
   • How is CSR interpreted in terms of modern family businesses?
   • A critical theoretical perspective of governance in family businesses.

For example, you might choose to look at a subject, say governance, from a particular epistemological perspective, e.g. critical theory, and then look at how scholars have approached the subject using this epistemological lens.

Alternatively you might choose a topic, e.g. governance, and choose to tell the story of how the subject of governance has evolved in the last 10 years, or since the global crash, or since some other significant event.

Essentially a story focused piece this type of article needs a strong ‘rational thread’ running through it. This style of piece works well if there is a particularly ‘hot topic’ or event that stimulates. The event can be everything from a national conference to the release or publication of a global research report, or a piece of government legislation.

Using the example of governance here is an example template for a narrative focus literature review summary article:

8. Introduction. Summarize the literature. Explain what the subject is that you are going to talk about. So is it governance in all forms, in small firms, in new firms. Is it governance in large firms, firms with a particular generation? Is it formal governance or informal? What epistemological foundation are you using?

9. Context. Provide a clear and specific context. Are you looking at governance as it relates to boards? To family run firms? To professionally run firms?

10. Rationale. Provide a clear rationale. Why is this subject interesting? Why now? Why will family business scholars and family business practitioners be interested in this subject?

11. Who should read the article? So this is where you would suggest which scholars might find this interesting. Who else might be interested in it?

12. Main body. Provide here the main story about your topic. Discuss if the definition is problematic in any way. Provide clear position on how you are choosing to define a topic.

13. Gaps. What are the gaps in the literature?

14. Conclusion. So what? What does this mean?

15. Pitfalls, limitations. What are the main pitfalls of looking at this topic in respect to the literature available? What are the limitations of what you have presented?

16. Relevance. This section explains the relevance of this to others: scholars; practitioners; policy makers.


3. Scholar focused

The focus of this article is to highlight the work of a particular scholar. So this article would choose the work of a particular scholar, e.g. John Davis, and then explain how his work had developed over time and to wrestle with the author’s arguments/philosophies and provide a coherent critique of them.

The main aim of this article is to provide an in-depth discussion about a particular body of scholarly work. It is relatively straightforward to describe an author’s works but to engage with the key arguments of a particular scholar requires some detailed thinking.

In order to do a thorough job on this kind of article you need to summarize an argument and synthesize various works into a cohesive narrative. So this article focuses on the ideas of one scholar, explains them, describes then and provides a critique of their relevance.

Using the example of governance here is an example template for a scholar focused style literature review summary article:

1. Introduction. Introduce and provide some background for the scholar. Why are they important? Why should we consider their work? 

2. Context. How does the scholars work fit in to the current family business discourse or not?

3. Rationale. Provide a clear rationale. Why is this scholar’s work important? Now? In the past? In brief, what contribution have they made?

4. Main body. Provide here the detail and information about the scholar. Provide a structure for how you will approach the discussion of their work. This could be a chronological approach, a subject-based, or topic-based approach.

5. Gaps. What can we learn from this scholar? What ideas of theirs have been developed? Are their ideas still relevant? Why?

6. Conclusion. So what? What does this scholar tell us that is useful now?

7. Pitfalls, limitations. What are the limitations of your article? What have you ignored or neglected or chosen not to discuss? Why?

8. Relevance. This section explains the relevance of this to others: scholars; practitioners; policy makers.

4. Evaluative focus

This focus of this article is to evaluate the extant literature in a particular topic. The aim of these articles is to provide detailed information about the value of the research available based on a proscribed factor or factors.

The most important consideration in this type of article is that the factors used in making the evaluation are clearly and explicitly defined and explained. Evaluative factors might be any of those listed below (though not limited to these) used individually or in combination:

   • Depth
   • Range
   • Spread
   • Size
   • Age
   • Length of study
   • Language
   • Gender
   • Structure
   • Performance
   • Ranking

Using the example of governance here is an example template for an evaluative focus mini literature review article:

1. Introduction. Summarize the literature. Explain what the subject is that you are going to evaluate. Governance is an organizational topic so evaluative considerations are likely to be around different structures of organisations, perhaps size and perhaps performance.

2. Context. Provide a clear and specific context. Are you looking at governance as it relates to studies done on firms of a certain size? Fortune 500 companies only? To family run firms? To professionally run firms?

3. Rationale. Provide a clear rationale. Why is evaluation necessary/relevant? Why are you using size (or other factors) to evaluate governance? Why are you not using other factor? What are the considerations about evaluating this subject using this factor? What have other scholars said about this, if anything?

4. Who should read the article? This where you would suggest which scholars might find this article interesting. Who else (non-scholars) might be interested in it?

5. Main body. Provide here the main body of information about your evaluation. You also need to explain how you approached the work, what method did you use for gathering the information/articles/studies used? How did you go about conducting the evaluation?

6. Gaps. Where are there gaps? Are there any areas/parameters/metrics that have not been used/considered before to evaluate this topic? Why do you think they have not been used? What do other scholars say about this?

7. Conclusion. So what does this mean?

8. Pitfalls, limitations. What other factors/evaluating factors could you have used? Why didn’t you use them?

9. Relevance. This section explains the relevance of this to others: scholars; practitioners; policy makers.

5. Relational focus

The focus of this article is to explain/explore/describe/compare the relationship between different studies. This kind of article aims to provide a detailed picture of how the various studies identified have contributed to the subject landscape:

   o Methodological approaches
   o Theoretical approaches
   o Macro versus micro approaches
   o Longitudinal studies versus snap-shot approaches

Using the example of governance here is an example template for a relational style literature review summary article:

1. Introduction. Summarize the literature. Explain what the subject is that you are going to talk about.

2. Context. Provide a clear and specific context. Are you looking at governance as it is viewed in small firms versus large firms. There needs to be a comparative aspect to the article.

3. Rationale. Provide a clear rationale. Why is this comparison important or relevant? Why now? Why will family business scholars and family business practitioners be interested in this comparison? Why this comparison and not others?

4. Main body. Provide here the comparison detail and information. Discuss how you approached making the comparison. Discuss if the comparison is problematic in any way. Provide a clear description/position/discussion on how you are choosing to compare.

5. Gaps. What gaps are there in the comparison? What have you been unable to compare? Why?

6. Conclusion. So what? What does this comparison tell us?

7. Pitfalls, limitations. What are the limitations of your comparison?

8. Relevance. This section explains the relevance of this to others: scholars; practitioners; policy makers.

Source: http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/biology/7-16-experimental-molecular-biology-biotechnology-ii-spring-2005/scientific-comm/lec05_mpominirev.pdf