When writing method sections, it is important to first describe how you conducted your search for literature. This involves specifying the database(s) you used and the search terms you used to conduct the search.
For a chronological review, you would describe how you went through the literature from earliest to latest. For example, if the earliest paper was published in 1982, then you would start with this paper and then mention which papers you referred to next. Then you would describe how you went through the literature until you reached the most recent paper.
Typically, in the methods section of a chronological review, you will have to group the sources in order of their publication date. For example, if the earliest available article on the topic dates back to 1991, you can arrange the sources into three groups:
- Information available from 1991-2000,
- Information available from 2001-2010, and
- Information available from 2011-present.
This structure is generally used when the focus is to show how ideas or methodology have progressed over time. For instance, a literature review that focuses on skin cancer in teenagers could be structured chronologically by examining the earliest methods of diagnosis and treatment, and gradually progressing to the latest models and treatment.
If you are writing a chronological review, you may want to use the “Results and Discussion“ section to discuss the findings of the reviewed papers. If this is the case, you would have a short discussion of the findings of each of the papers in the “Summary of findings“ section. You would first describe the findings of the earliest paper and then mention which papers you referred to next and how these papers contributed to the understanding of your topic. You would then describe the findings of the next paper, and so on, until you reach the most recent paper, where you would then explain how it is similar or different.
In a thematic literature review, you would group and analyse the existing literature according to topics or theoretical ideas that you believe are crucial to the subject. You would then describe how you searched for literature on each theme.
For example, if you were writing on “maternal nutrition during pregnancy,” you could divide the topic into three themes:
- diet during pregnancy,
- nutrition during the breastfeeding period, and
- nutrition in the period postpartum.
You would then describe how you searched for literature on each of these themes and how you narrowed down the literature to just a few papers around each of these themes. You would then write a separate methodology section for each of the three themes.
Here is an example of a methodology section for the theme “diet during pregnancy“: