Systematic approaches to reviewing literature - 4 ECTS

Organised by Wageningen School of Social Sciences (WASS)

Wed 11 October 2023 until Wed 29 November 2023

Introduction & objectives of the course

In medicine, systematic reviews are the standard way to review evidence. This method is rapidly growing in importance in other disciplines. Systematic review is now used to describe theory, concepts, methods and evidence. The course offered at WU is interdisciplinary. In addition to what they require to do their own review, participants learn about research in other disciplines and they will learn how to report their research in ways that are more broadly accessible.

Types of research questions supported:
- What is the evidence on (insert topic)?
- What models/theories are used to study (insert interest)?
- How does the literature understand (insert concept)?
- How is (concept) measured?
- What is known about…?
- What works?
- How is (insert any topic of interest) reported?

This course introduces evidence review methods ranging from meta-analysis (statistical review of quantitative evidence) through to meta-ethnography (synthesis of qualitative evidence through abstraction). Several forms of thematic content analysis appropriate for the description of theory, concepts and methods will also be introduced. Participants will be broken into small working groups for instruction by the analysis methods appropriate for their research question.


Preparatory assignment (approx.20 hours total effort)

Day 1 (morning): 11 October
Introduction to systematic review, refining your question, screening articles and discussion of questions arising from the introductory exercise

Homework: revise initial design of review and finalise sampling criteria for selection of articles, peer review (approx. 10 hours). This assignment is submitted for review to the instructors and will be returned prior to the session in the library.

Day 2 (full day): 25 October
Finding relevant studies (library)

Homework: finalise sample of articles to be analysed and make initial selection of analysis method (approx. 5-20 hours)

Day 3 (afternoon):  8 November
Analysis, synthesis and reporting

Homework: prepare a rough draft of the final product, peer review, revise (approx. 20 hours)

Day 4 (morning): 29 November

Homework: finalise assignment (20-30 hours)

NOTE: prior to each session participants submit questions that will be taken up in that class.

At the end of the course participants will have at least the skeleton of a publishable review in hand, they will know what is involved in conducting a review, they will know a number of different kinds of systematic review and they will know a great deal more about other scientific disciplines.


Session 1 11-10-2023 morning
Session 2 25-10-2023 full day
Session 3 8-11-2023 afternoon
Session 4 29-11-2023 morning

Learning outcomes

After successful completion of this course, participants are expected to be able to:

  1. why a systematic approach to reviewing literature in the social sciences is increasingly expected

  2. where in their PhD trajectory systematic reviews make sense
  3. which type of review is appropriate for each research question they have 
  4. what time and resources each type of review will require
  5. what can and cannot claim to be known as the result of a given review
  6. how to design and, in the most practical terms, execute a review

Target group and min/max number of participants

This course is intended for PhD-candidates and postdocs designing a literature review; 10 min/20 max participants

Assumed prior knowledge

Library information literacy course or equivalent.

Course fee 

WGS PhDs with TSP € 300
a) All other PhD candidates b) Postdocs and staff of the above mentioned Graduate Schools € 640
All others € 900

NB: for some courses, PhD candidates from other WUR graduate schools with a TSP are also entitled to a reduced fee. Please consult your Education/PhD Programme Coordinator for more information

Cancellation conditions:

The participants can cancel their registration free of charge 1 month before the course starts. A cancellation fee of 100% applies if a participant cancels his/her registration less than 1 month prior to the start of the course.

The organisers have the right to cancel the course no later than one month before the planned course start date in the case that the number of registrations does not reach the minimum.

The participants will be notified of any changes at their e-mail addresses.