State-of-the-art literature review methodology: A six-step approach for knowledge synthesis

Erin S. Barry*, Jerusalem Merkebu, Lara Varpio

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Introduction: Researchers and practitioners rely on literature reviews to synthesize large bodies of knowledge. Many types of literature reviews have been developed, each targeting a specific purpose. However, these syntheses are hampered if the review type’s paradigmatic roots, methods, and markers of rigor are only vaguely understood. One literature review type whose methodology has yet to be elucidated is the state-of-the-art (SotA) review. If medical educators are to harness SotA reviews to generate knowledge syntheses, we must understand and articulate the paradigmatic roots of, and methods for, conducting SotA reviews. Methods: We reviewed 940 articles published between 2014–2021 labeled as SotA reviews. We (a) identified all SotA methods-related resources, (b) examined the foundational principles and techniques underpinning the reviews, and (c) combined our findings to inductively analyze and articulate the philosophical foundations, process steps, and markers of rigor. Results: In the 940 articles reviewed, nearly all manuscripts (98%) lacked citations for how to conduct a SotA review. The term “state of the art” was used in 4 different ways. Analysis revealed that SotA articles are grounded in relativism and subjectivism. Discussion: This article provides a 6-step approach for conducting SotA reviews. SotA reviews offer an interpretive synthesis that describes: This is where we are now. This is how we got here. This is where we could be going. This chronologically rooted narrative synthesis provides a methodology for reviewing large bodies of literature to explore why and how our current knowledge has developed and to offer new research directions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)281-288
Number of pages8
JournalPerspectives on Medical Education
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Literature review
  • Literature review methodology
  • State-of-the-art literature review


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