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Music Therapy

Guide for students studying Music Therapy at the University of Melbourne.

Systematic Literature Reviews

What are systematic reviews?

Music Therapy staff recommend the APA citation style.

The University of Melbourne Re:Cite site offers a quick guide to APA 6th edition

For more detail, see  APA Style Simplified [electronic resource]

or Publication manual of the American Psychological Association. 6th ed.

You can keep up-to-date with the APA Style Blog.

Literature reviews are important for:

  • establishing the theoretical background and context of primary research,
  • conducting secondary research through meta-analysis or one of the types of qualitative synthesis.

Systematic literature reviews are comprehensive and replicable. You will need to:

  • identify the types and scope of resources to be covered, including date range and geographic extent
  • select the databases or other indices to be used
  • set out the search terms and strategies likely to be useful, and use them consistently
  • perhaps scope the search by recording additional terms and subject headings found in initial results before finalising the search strategy
  • possibly exclude some studies from the review, documenting these and the reasons for exclusion

Systematic literature review can summarise and critique research findings from a number of possible perspectives.

You may find the following readings helpful.


Hanson-Abromeit, D.  & Moore, K.S. (2014). The systematic review as a research process in music therapy. Journal of Music Therapy  51(1) :4.

Robinson K. A., Saldanha I. J., and Mckoy N. A. (2011). Development of a framework to identify research gaps from systematic reviews. Journal of Clinical Epidemiology 64(12): 1325.

Barnett-Page E., and Thomas J. (2009). Methods for the synthesis of qualitative research: a critical review. BMC Medical Research Methodology 9: 59.

Tricco A. C.,Straus S. E., and Moher, D. (2009). How can we improve the interpretation of systematic reviews? BMC Medicine 9:31

Meta-analysis (use of statistical techniques for combining and summarising quantitative results from controlled clinical trials)

There are many books and e-books in the collection with the subject terms Meta-analysis or Evidence-based medicine.

e.g. Higgins, Julian P. T.(2008). Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions [electronic resource]. Hoboken : John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. For an updated version see

Narrative synthesis (a qualitative method identifying major studies in a field, reviewing the main themes and summarising findings)

Gough, D. (2013). Meta-narrative and realist reviews: guidance, rules, publications standards and quality appraisal. BMC Medicine 11:21.

Wong G., Greenhalgh T., Westhorp G., Buckingham J., and Pawson R. (2013). RAMESES publication standards: meta-narrative reviews. BMC Medicine11:20.

Critical interpretive synthesis (a method for synthesising a diverse body of evidence to generate and test theory, different from the more traditional aggregative synthesis)

Dixon-Woods, M. et al. (2006). Conducting a critical interpretive synthesis of the literature on access to healthcare by vulnerable groups.BMC Medical Research Methodology 6:35.

Realist synthesis  (a mid-range theoretical approach between positivism and constructivism, unpacking contexts, mechanisms and outcomes of primary studies)

Wong, G., Greenhalgh, T., Westhorp, G., Buckingham, J., & Pawson, R. (2013). RAMESES publication standards: realist syntheses. BMC Medicine 11:21.

Best-fit framework synthesis (an iterative approach suited to policy questions)

Dixon-Woods, M. (2011). Using framework-based synthesis for conducting reviews of qualitative studies. BMC Medicine  9: 39.

Carroll C., Booth A., Leaviss J., & Rick J. (2013). "Best fit" framework synthesis: refining the method. BMC Medical Research Methodology 13:37.

Knowledge synthesis (potential for generating new knowledge through extrapolation or interpolation of information sourced through systematic review)

Kastner, M. et al (2012). What is the most appropriate knowledge synthesis method to conduct a review? Protocol for a scoping review. BMC Medical Research Methodology 12:114.

A summary of critical appraisal tools is found in the International Centre for Allied Health Evidence pages.