Top 5 Problems in Systematic literature review writing in PhD thesis

Sailing on a Ph.D. journey involves a lot of learning, and one important part is Systematic literature review writing in PhD thesis. In this blog, we'll talk about Structure of Systematic Literature Review through the types of literature review. To make things clearer, we'll also look at a Systematic Literature Review example. 

A systematic literature review is a comprehensive and structured method of examining existing research on a specific topic. It involves systematically searching, evaluating, and synthesizing relevant studies to provide a well-rounded and evidence-based overview of the current state of knowledge in a particular field. This methodology aims to minimize bias and ensure a rigorous and transparent approach to gathering and analyzing literature.

Before we dive into the problems and their SOLUTIONS, let us know the different types of systematic literature review so that we don’t face issues in not only understanding the problems but also easily applying their solutions.

Types of Systematic Literature Review

1. Narrative Review:

- Focuses on summarizing and describing existing literature without a strict methodological approach.

- Common in the early stages of research to build a foundational understanding.

2. Meta-analysis:

- Quantitatively analyzes data from multiple studies to draw statistical conclusions.

- Aims to provide a more robust and precise estimate of the research question.

3. Meta-synthesis:

- Qualitatively combines findings from different studies to develop new insights or theories.

- Focuses on understanding the meaning behind research findings.

4. Systematized Review:

- Applies a systematic approach but may not follow all the steps of a traditional systematic review.

- Useful when time or resource constraints limit a comprehensive review.

Problem #1: Defining Inclusion and Exclusion Criteria


Scope Ambiguity: Difficulty arises in delineating the precise boundaries of relevant studies, leading to uncertainty about which literature to include or exclude.

Subjectivity Challenges: Researchers may grapple with subjective judgments when setting criteria, potentially introducing bias or inconsistency in the selection process.

Overwhelming Volume: The sheer volume of available literature makes it challenging to strike a balance between inclusivity and manageability, often resulting in an overwhelming number of studies to sift through.


- Engage in discussions with peers and mentors to collectively define criteria. This collaborative approach can provide diverse perspectives, refining the inclusion and exclusion parameters.

- Conduct a pilot test by applying the criteria to a small subset of studies. This helps identify potential challenges and allows for adjustments before embarking on the full-scale review.

- Clearly document and justify inclusion and exclusion decisions. This transparency not only ensures consistency but also aids in addressing questions or concerns during the research process.

Problem #2: Publication Bias and Selective Reporting


Publication bias can lead to an incomplete representation of the available evidence, as studies with positive results are more likely to be published, skewing the overall findings. The prevalence of selective reporting poses a risk of misinterpretation, where the true extent of the research evidence may be obscured, affecting the reliability of the systematic literature review. Conducting meta-analyses becomes challenging when there is a lack of access to unpublished or negative findings, potentially influencing the overall effect size and conclusions drawn.


1. Include Gray Literature:

- Incorporate gray literature, such as conference proceedings and unpublished studies, to mitigate the impact of publication bias and provide a more comprehensive view of the research landscape.

2. Contact Authors:

- Actively reach out to authors of relevant studies to obtain additional data or unpublished results, reducing the risk of selective reporting influencing the findings of the systematic review.

3. Use of Statistical Methods:

- Employ statistical methods, such as funnel plots, to detect and assess the potential impact of publication bias. Awareness of these biases enables researchers to interpret findings more critically.

Problem #3: Time-consuming Nature


- Limited time and resources pose challenges for PhD researchers, making it difficult to conduct a comprehensive review within the constraints of a demanding academic schedule.

- The time-intensive nature of systematic literature reviews may lead researchers to inadvertently overlook relevant studies, risking gaps in the synthesis of existing evidence.

- Lengthy review processes can impede overall progress in the research project, potentially affecting subsequent phases of the PhD journey.


Develop a detailed timeline and project plan, allocating specific periods for different stages of the systematic literature review. This strategic approach enhances efficiency. Focus on prioritizing key studies aligned with the research objectives, ensuring that the most critical and relevant literature is thoroughly reviewed within the available time frame. Leverage available automation tools and software to expedite certain aspects of the review process, such as screening and data extraction, optimizing the use of time and resources.

Problem #4: Heterogeneity of Study Designs


1. Integration Challenges:

Diverse study designs make it challenging to integrate findings cohesively, as different methodologies may require distinct approaches to synthesis.

2. Interpretation Complexity:

The variety in study designs complicates the interpretation of results, potentially leading to difficulties in drawing meaningful and generalized conclusions.

3. Quality Assessment Variability:

Assessing the quality of studies becomes complex when faced with diverse designs, as criteria for evaluating one type of study may not be directly applicable to another.


- Adopt a thematic synthesis approach, grouping studies based on common themes or concepts rather than solely focusing on methodological similarities. This can help manage the heterogeneity more effectively.

- Consider conducting subgroup analyses to explore variations in outcomes based on study design, allowing for a more nuanced understanding of the research landscape.

- Clearly articulate the diversity in study designs in the systematic literature review, acknowledging the heterogeneity and providing a rationale for the chosen synthesis approach. This enhances transparency and validity.

Problem #5: Quality Assessment of Studies


- Subjectivity in Evaluation: Assessing the quality of studies involves subjective judgments, introducing the potential for bias in determining the reliability and validity of research.

- Diverse Quality Criteria: Different study designs may require varied quality criteria, making it challenging to apply a uniform standard across diverse types of research.

- Limited Reporting Standards: Inconsistent reporting standards across studies can hinder the accurate evaluation of methodological quality, leaving researchers grappling with incomplete information.


Define clear and transparent criteria for quality assessment at the outset of the systematic review. This clarity aids in consistent evaluation and minimizes subjectivity. Employ established quality assessment tools or checklists relevant to specific study designs. These tools provide structured frameworks for evaluating research quality. Implement a dual review process where two independent reviewers assess study quality. Discrepancies can be resolved through discussion, enhancing the reliability of the assessment.

Final Thoughts

Completing a Ph.D. involves mastering the Systematic literature review writing in PhD thesis, but it comes with challenges. Exploring the Top 5 Problems in Systematic Literature Review writing in PhD theses reveals the difficulties researchers face. From understanding the Structure of Systematic Literature Review to figuring out the solutions, each step requires careful consideration. Yet, armed with this knowledge, researchers can overcome these challenges and create stronger reviews. 

Knowing the ins and outs of each problem helps scholars improve their approach, making the Systematic Literature Review process more straightforward and effective. In conclusion, diving into a Systematic Literature Review example offers practical insights, turning challenges into opportunities for growth and scholarly contributions in the world of Ph.D. theses.

Thesis India offers Systematic literature review writing in PhD thesis to dedicated researchers seeking a robust approach to exploring existing research. An SLR goes beyond conventional literature reviews, meticulously evaluating an extensive body of research to address a precisely formulated research question. 

The process begins with a clear protocol, ensuring transparency and replicability. The team navigates multiple databases and gray literature, leaving no valuable source unexplored. Thesis India’s SLR service extends across various research fields, empowering PhD researchers to unlock the true potential of their academic pursuits.


1. How do you write a systematic literature review?

Systematic literature reviews are written by following a structured process that includes defining research questions, searching for relevant studies, critically evaluating and synthesizing the findings.

2. What are the main requirements of the systematic review of literature?

The main requirements include a clearly defined research question, a comprehensive search strategy, inclusion and exclusion criteria, rigorous study selection, and a systematic synthesis of the findings.

3. What are the key features of a systematic literature review?

Key features include a methodical search process, explicit inclusion criteria, rigorous quality assessment, systematic data synthesis, and transparent reporting of methods and findings.

4. What are the benefits of systematic literature review writing in PhD?

Benefits include a comprehensive understanding of existing research, identification of gaps in knowledge, synthesis of evidence for informed decision-making, and the development of critical analytical skills.

5. What is the difference between a systematic literature review and a standard literature review?

A systematic literature review follows a structured and replicable process, while a standard literature review may lack explicit methods, inclusion criteria, and a systematic synthesis of evidence.

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