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Posted on Nov 5, 2010 in Research summaries

Webster and Watson 2002: Analyzing the Past to Prepare for the Future: Writing a Literature Review

Webster, Jane and Watson, Richard T. 2002. Analyzing the Past to Prepare for the Future: Writing a Literature Review. MIS Quarterly, (26: 2) pp. xiii – xxiii.

Man reading among a large pile of books

A lit review requires sifting through large amounts of reading

Webster and Watson 20012 is the classic information systems research article on writing literature reviews. It is an editorial.

  • Rationale: Up till 2002, there had been a shortage of review articles in IS research. Although MIS Quarterly had previously launched the MISQ Review section to address this, it still appeared that IS researchers in general where not very clear on how to write a good review article.
  • Objectives: The article encourages the writing of review articles, and guides potential authors on how to write the review, structure it, and develop the theory. It also briefly describes the reviewing procedure for MISQ Review articles.
  • Key findings: “Two types of review exist” (p. xiv): synthesis of a mature body of research; and theoretical framework for researching an emerging area of inquiry. The authors provide writing guidelines for beginning a review article, and for conducting the literature search process. For structuring the review, they argue for and illustrate a concept-centric approach where the theoretical concepts are central to the review, distinguishing for units of analysis if applicable. They highlight the difference between variance theories (where independent variables cause variance or differences in the dependent variables) and process theories (that focus on a sequential causal chain). They also highlight that “The reasoning for propositions may come from three main sources: theoretical explanations for “why,” past empirical findings, and practice or experience.”
  • Key contribution to knowledge: The concept-centric approach and the three bases for justifying propositions (highlighted above under “Key findings”) are probably the primary contributions.
  • Key implications: MIS Quarterly welcomes review articles, and is willing to guide potential authors through a developmental review to produce high-quality contributions.
  • Comments: Although this is not a peer-reviewed article, as an editorial by MISQ editors, it is an essential guide to follow if anyone wants to publish a high-quality literature review article in IS research, in no matter which high-quality IS journal.

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