Notes on Lit Reviews

Papers Covered

Alavi, M., & Leidner, D. E. (2001). Review: Knowledge Management and Knowledge Management Systems: Conceptual Foundations and Research Issues. MIS Quarterly, 25(1), 107.

Bélanger, & Crossler. (2011). Privacy in the Digital Age: A Review of Information Privacy Research in Information Systems. MIS Quarterly, 35(4), 1017.

Jones, M. R., & Karsten, H. (2008). Giddens’s Structuration Theory and Information Systems Research. MIS Quarterly, 32(1), 127–157.

Roberts, Galluch, Dinger, & Grover. (2012). Absorptive Capacity and Information Systems Research: Review, Synthesis, and Directions for Future Research. MIS Quarterly, 36(2), 625.

Wade, M., & Hulland, J. (2004). Review: The Resource-Based View and Information Systems Research: Review, Extension, and Suggestions for Future Research. MIS Quarterly, 28(1), 107–142.

Wiener, M., Mähring, M., Remus, U., & Saunders, C. (2016). Control Configuration and Control Enactment in Information Systems Projects: Review and Expanded Theoretical Framework. MIS Quarterly, 40(3), 741–774.


My advisor recommended a set of literature review articles to review in order to help formulate my own lit review of material for my proposal. I had the idea of trying to write the problem domain lit review of my proposal as a separate lit review paper, so these papers are a way to show me what’s ahead.

Alavi and Leidner (2001) deal with knowledge management, but kick off a section that is an overview and provides a short review of scholarship on the nature of knowledge. Salient to my work is their discussion of taxonomies of knowledge, since I’m interested in classification systems within my problem domain. Unfortunately, key terms aren’t necessarily apparent when first encountered. Italicizing first instances would help. The high-level outline looks like this:

  1. Introduction
  2. Knowledge and the Firm: An Overview and Basic Concepts
  3. Organizational Knowledge Management Processes: A Framework for Analysis of the Role of an Information System
  4. Research Issues in Knowledge Management
  5. Summary and Conclusions

This feels like a book chapter on the topic. I don’t know what the difference should be between a book article on a topic and a lit review of the topic. Perhaps this is the difference: It lacks a method section, where the systematic consumption and analysis of literature on the topic is detailed; Instead, it feels like established experts making their personal tacit understanding of knowledge management more explicit. (Which is not criticism. They obviously have a great deal of knowledge on this topic.)

Wade and Hulland (2004) start with a description of their specific topic (resource-based view of the firm) which includes a summary of expected benefits to the broader field. The appendix includes a list of 24 studies published over 12 years that were analyzed for the review. Part of this review that seemed promising was a section on typologies for IS resources, which would be pertinent to my interest in risk classification. Unfortunately, the author isn’t reviewing multiple typologies, but picks one and uses it to classify “information systems resources from previous studies” (p 112). The paper does build well, each section building on the previous.

  1. Introduction
  2. The Resource-Based View of the Firm
  3. IS Resources and the Resource-Based View
  4. Potential Moderators
  5. Using the RBV in IS Research
  6. Summary and Conclusions

The authors spend about 3.5 pages on suggestions for research. Editing issue: Potential Moderators has a sub-section called Potential Moderators. Beginning in section 3, the authors start sharing propositions in order to suggest future study. Each proposition (there are 8 main propositions, several with sub-propositions, making the total 14) is stated like a hypothesis, but left untested.

Jones and Karsten (2008) have the benefit of a single originating source for the theoretical framework under review–Gidden–so the paper begins with an overview of his oeuvre, moves to a summary of this particular theoretical framework, and then to others’ work with it. They “identify 331 Information Systems articles published between 1983 and 2004 that have drawn on Giddens’s work and analyze their use of structuration theory” (p. 127).

“Four main methods were used to carry out this search: the first was to consult previous review articles; second was an online search of ABI/Inform and EBSCO Business Periodicals using the search terms Giddens AND Information*; third was a manual review of hard copies of a number of significant IS journals; and finally, an analysis of the proceedings of International Federation for Information Processing’s Working Group 8.2 (Interaction of lnformation Systems and the Organization) and the International Conference on Information Systems. Further references were also sought, for example, through analysis of bibliographies of the articles themselves” (p. 134).

This is the first paper so far to explicitly detail their methods for search, filtering, and analysis of a large body of knowledge. This boils down to two online searches, a manual review of certain journals and conference proceedings, and citation crawls.

  1. Introduction
  2. Structuration Theory in the Context of Gidden’s Work
  3. Structuration Theory
  4. Analyzing the Use of Structuration Theory in the IS Field
  5. An Agenda for Structurational IS Research
  6. Summary
  7. Conclusions

Section 3 references Table 2, which has key three columns: Feature of Structuration Theory, Implications, and Potential Issues. Unfortunately, there are no citations in this table, and pointers to potential explanations in the text don’t exist: The reader must continuously scan the document to find where concepts were introduced. The in-text reference to Table 2 comes after many pages of material that are being summarized.

Section 5 contains the research agenda, which is summarized in a table. Rather than list propositions, the table is split into Area and Research Opportunity columns. Areas are perceived shortcomings in the current literature, and Research Opportunities are broad suggestions for studies (far less specific, it seems to me, than Jones and Karsten’s propositions).

Wiener et al. (2016) has several good structural features that I might replicate: They specifically limit their work and they detail their methods. The full high-level outline:

  1. Introduction
  2. Foundations and Boundaries
  3. Research Methodology
  4. Literature Review and Synthesis
  5. Contributions of the Expanded Theoretical Framework
  6. Conclusions

This is the first paper to strictly say what it isn’t. With the others, the bounds have all been implied. This point should be important in my own work, since I’m currently struggling with defining my own constraints. The work “focuses on a distinct unit of analysis: the collection of control activities carried out in relation to an IS project” (p. 5).

The methods section references a paper I already have (Leidner and Kayworth (2006)) so I’ll be returning to that for a review. They start with a manual review of the Basket of Eight AIS journals, continued with multiple online searches of relevant journals, and performed citation crawls of articles that cited key papers they’d identified. They again talk about boundaries:

Given the volume of the control literature, we chose to limit our review sample to empirical studies and key conceptual studies where both IS and project control were significant themes. Furthermore, we excluded from our sample conference papers that resulted in journal articles, publications with no original content such as announcements or forewords, and research-in-progress papers. With this preselection strategy we aimed at including all relevant studies with substantial contributions while avoiding an unmanageable sample and studies of limited value (Leidner and Kayworth 2006). To avoid selection errors, we read the abstract, introduction, discussion, and conclusion section of each identified study (Swanson and Ramiller 1993). Following this approach, we selected 57 studies for inclusion in our analysis (p. 6).

Literature Review and Synthesis is the bulk of the paper, something like 18 pages. While they’ve analyzed 57 articles, they actually have fewer authors. Kirsch appears six times as lead author, more than 10% of the sources. I have the feeling this sort of cluster of influence should be called out. Details aren’t available on how they produced their framework of themes during synthesis. One of their themes only includes seven of the fifty-seven articles (about 12%).

Rather than propositions, the authors share conjectures. I’m now thoroughly confused at the relationships among conjectures, propositions, and hypotheses. The article includes 8 conjecture statements, two with sub-conjectures. Each points at a gap or inconsistency in the literature, summarized in Table 9 (p. 26).

Roberts, Galluch, Dinger, & Grover (2012) also have a details of how they conducted their search. The authors pick a “seminal” article as the focus and look for works referring to that origin article for part one of their lit search. With similar crawls for other important articles and an AIS journal set search, the result was 98 articles used for the analysis.

The authors claim two objectives. “[Our] first objective will be to demonstrate the application of absorptive capacity and how it interacts with a variety of IS theoretical perspectives and phenomena” (p. 626).  “Our second objective is to better guide the use of absorptive capacity in IS research” (p. 626).

The outline:

  1. Introduction
  2. What is Absorptive Capacity?
  3. Absorptive Capacity in IS Research
  4. A Framework for Investigating the Interaction of Information Technology and Absorptive Capacity
  5. Conclusion

Part 3 is broken down into three sections: Conceptualization, Levels of Analysis, and Measurement Domain. (Despite this clear division in the introduction of the section, the headers don’t seem to reflect this structure, which can cause confusion when trying to scan the paper.) In Conceptualization, the authors discuss the ways in which articles “understood the original theoretical context” (p. 631) and summarize that information in table form. For my own work, I’m trying to decide when to use these sorts of differences to filter out articles (bound my research) and when it’d be better to make it part of the analysis.

Objective two is carried out using thematic analysis of the reviewed documents. It “systematically categorizes content of text and identifies relationships among the categories [and] is valuable for making sense of a large domain of research, and it can guide future research” again citing Leidner & Kayworth (2006). The results of the analysis are summarized as a Venn diagram and detailed in text. That section is followed by details on limitations to the field of research. The framework makes suggestions for addressing and overcoming these limitations.  

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *