Systematic Reviews

Recently, I have been dabbling in the art and science of the systematic review.  It’s an established science in many fields, but in my field of coaching and sport science, it’s a relative newcomer.

Ideally, systematic reviews help to tie together disparate strands of research literature in order to paint a more coherent picture of knowledge.  This is especially important in the field of coaching science – an emerging field that brings together researchers from scientific disciplines with very different traditions.  For instance, exercise physiologists have a very positivistic frame for scientific inquiry, and data collection generally involves physical evidence (e.g., heart rates, step counts, oxygen saturation).  Psychologists vary in their forms of inquiry, using everything from behavioral observation and coding, to survey measures of attitudinal and behavioral frequencies, to qualitative inquiries such as interviews, focus groups, and photo-elicitation.  Sociologists often employ a post-structuralist model of inquiry, using established frames of inquiry to deconstruct familiar modes of interaction and criticize power relationships.

Of course, all of these forms of inquiry are still focused on a similar field – but their epistemologies vary widely.  What makes a systematic review difficult is finding ways to examine the current state of knowledge when that knowledge has been created in (essentially) different languages.  Integrating the knowledge may be a fool’s errand, but a systematic review can at least set that knowledge in one common place.

I prepared the following slides for a talk I gave for graduate students in our Department of Kinesiology recently.

Interested readers might also examine the following resources:

The Cochrane Collaboration has generally focused on systematically reviewing studies in health and medicine to generate a strong base for evidence-based medicine.  They provide reviews (free or at cost) and also provide guidance for conducting a review.

The Campbell Collaboration (named for pioneering social scientist Donald Campbell) has performed a similar function, but has aggregated social science research.

Another useful text, Systematic Reviews in the Social Sciences (Petticrew and Roberts, 2006) is available through Wiley Publishers. A quick Google search may also net a copy for some users.

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