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Chitu Okoli

Posted on Sep 24, 2013 in Research publications

Critical Realist Guide to Developing Theory with Systematic Literature Reviews (Okoli 2012)

Okoli, Chitu, A Critical Realist Guide to Developing Theory with Systematic Literature Reviews (December 13, 2012). Available at SSRN: or

Man reading among a large pile of books

A literature review requires sifting through large amounts of reading

While there are numerous guides on how to conduct standalone literature reviews, none specifically describes how to develop a review explicitly focused on making a theoretical contribution from a social science perspective. This article adopts a critical realist approach, which attempts to discern the latent theoretical concepts underlying apparently disparate empirical investigations to synthesize diverse yet commensurable primary studies. We describe a rigorous methodology of eight steps to conducting a systematic review (also called a systematic literature review) with a specific goal of theory landscaping, theory building or theory testing. Based on a critical realist understanding of theory, we present the distillation of theory in eight steps: specifying the purpose of the review; writing the study protocol and training the reviewers; the practical screen; the literature search; data extraction; quality appraisal; synthesis of the included studies; and writing the discussion and conclusions. This methodology is particularly tailored for information systems research, but is sufficiently general to be valuable for a wide range of social sciences.

Keywords: Theory development, theory building, theory testing, systematic reviews, literature reviews, critical realism, information systems research



  1. Whetten 1989: What constitutes a theoretical contribution? - Chitu Okoli | Chitu Okoli - […] my paper on using systematic literature reviews to build theory, I depend heavily on Whetten in the aspect of…

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