Journal of the Association for Information Systems

Article Title

Understanding the Elephant: The Discourse Approach to Boundary Identification and Corpus Construction for Theory Review Articles


The goal of a review article is to present the current state of knowledge in a research area. Two important initial steps in writing a review article are boundary identification (identifying a body of potentially relevant past research) and corpus construction (selecting research manuscripts to include in the review). We present a theory-as-discourse approach, which (1) creates a theory ecosystem of potentially relevant prior research using a citation-network approach to boundary identification; and (2) identifies manuscripts for consideration using machine learning or random selection. We demonstrate an instantiation of the theory as discourse approach through a proof-of-concept, which we call the automated detection of implicit theory (ADIT) technique. ADIT improves performance over the conventional approach as practiced in past technology acceptance model reviews (i.e., keyword search, sometimes manual citation chaining); it identifies a set of research manuscripts that is more comprehensive and at least as precise. Our analysis shows that the conventional approach failed to identify a majority of past research. Like the three blind men examining the elephant, the conventional approach distorts the totality of the phenomenon. ADIT also enables researchers to statistically estimate the number of relevant manuscripts that were excluded from the resulting review article, thus enabling an assessment of the review article’s representativeness.