The application of theory in literature reviews – illustrated with examples from supply chain management

Stefan Seuring, Sadaat Yawar, Anna Land, Usman Khalid Raja, Philipp Sauer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Citations (Scopus)


Literature review articles have become a frequently applied research approach in operations and supply chain management (SCM). The purpose of this paper aims to elaborate on four approaches for developing or employing theory in systematic literature reviews (SLRs).

The paper uses conceptual arguments and illustrates them by pointing to recent examples. In SLRs, the material collection is usually based on keywords and searching databases, which is comparatively well documented. Data analysis, however, often falls short in documentation and, consequently, is neither well explained nor replicable. Therefore, the focus of this paper is the elaboration of the data analysis and sense-making stage in the research process of SLRs.

The paper presents four different approaches, which are characterized as theory (1) building, (2) modification, (3) refinement and (4) extension, based on whether new concepts are formed or extant concepts within SCM or other fields of management theory are adopted.

Research limitations/implications
The limitation of this research is that literature reviews could be conducted and presented in many ways. Since the focus of this research is on systematic literature reviews, only a limited number of approaches can be discussed and presented here.

The paper contributes to explaining the process and expected outcomes of a literature review and, therefore, aids in further developing the related methodological approaches. This is relevant as literature review publications now often replace conceptual or theoretical pieces but still have to deliver concerning demands of theory building.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages20
JournalInternational Journal of Operations and Production Management
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 13 Nov 2020


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