Inclusive Approaches to Reviewing Scholarship: A New Guide

Brian Burt
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Kathy Quardokus Fisher
University of Notre Dame
Naneh Apkarian
Arizona State University
Naneh Apkarian (Western Michigan University)
Kathy Quardokus Fisher (Florida International University)
Brian A. Burt (University of Wisconsin-Madison)

published May 29, 2019

The ASCN Guiding Theories Working Group is working on answering the question "How might we better support people's use of theories, models, and scholarship in their planned systemic change efforts?" The Breaking Down Silos working meeting (previously discussed on the ASCN blog) brought together scholars to discuss and organize existing theories and models of change from scholarship related to change in undergraduate STEM education. One of the discussions focused on representation, which in turn led to the development of the Guide to Inclusion Awareness in the Organization of Knowledge (Acrobat (PDF) 216kB May28 19), which is the subject of this post.

At Breaking Down Silos, the question of inclusion and exclusion arose. That is, what literature was included in the body of work considered to be relevant, and what was left out? Who was represented at the meeting (and in the working group), and who was not? Why? What are the resulting implications of these boundaries for our work? These questions are relevant across many contexts, and our discussions over the working meeting and beyond led to the creation of the Guide to Inclusion Awareness in the Organization of Knowledge (Acrobat (PDF) 216kB May28 19) document. It is a set of guiding questions to support inclusion and transparency in the creation of scholarly work. In this blog, we highlight and discuss some of the concerns about developing typographies or literature reviews that led to the development of this guide.

In reviewing a "body of knowledge," one must make decisions about how to include and exclude existing work. A fairly common criteria is "published in a peer-reviewed journal." This has the assumed benefit of ensuring that the work has been vetted and is based on more than simple opinion, but is accompanied by other more implicit assumptions that should be explored. For one, the timeline to publication suggests that published work represents the thoughts of a few years prior. Another factor is that this means the resulting scholarly work inherits journal editors' beliefs about what counts or does not count as knowledge. This may mean that novel ideas are not well represented if the journals have not yet caught up to the zeitgeist.

When presenting the results of a knowledge review (e.g., a typology, a literature review) the author(s) make decisions about which references and results to highlight as exemplars, and which ideas are relegated to "other" categories. In doing this, and passing it along to others, the highlighted works receive a visibility boost while the others do not. There is no way around this, but it is possible to be intentional with the treatment of examples, references, and "other" ideas.

We argue primarily for transparency and clarity in the delimitation of boundaries for inclusion and exclusion of knowledge. It is impossible to review all existing and relevant knowledge for a topic, and new knowledge is created, published, and disseminated regularly so that "coverage" is an unattainable moving target. It is similarly impossible to do a perfect job of defining "relevant," or even "relevant for a purpose." However, by clearly explaining the boundaries set, the reasons those boundaries were set, and acknowledging some of those limitations, the work is better able to be digested and interpreted by readers.

With these issues in mind, the four of us (Naneh Apkarian, Brian A. Burt, Mahauganee D. Bonds, and Kathy Quardokus Fisher) compiled relevant questions which we believe can be used to prompt more inclusive reviews of scholarly work, and more transparency in the decisions which purposefully or inadvertently lead to boundaries of relevance. These guidelines may also be useful for those who are developing new theories that are based on specific population samples or existing knowledge. We submit this guide to the ASCN network in the hopes that others will find it useful.

Suggested citation:

Apkarian, N., Bonds, M.D., Quardokus Fisher, K., & Burt, B. (2019, May 29). Inclusive Approaches to Reviewing Scholarship: A New Guide. Retrieved from:

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