Dr. V.K. Maheshwari, Former Principal
K.L.D.A.V (P. G) College, Roorkee, India
Man is the only animal that can take advantage of the knowledge which has accumulated through the centuries. This fact is of particular importance in research, which operates as a continuous function of ever-closer approximation of the truth.The investigator can be sure that his problem does not exist in a vacuum, and that considerable work has already been done on topics which are directly related to his proposed investigation. The success of his efforts will depend in no small measure on the extent to which he capitalizes on the advances- both empirical and theoretical- made by previous researchers.
A literature review is an evaluative report of information found in the literature related to your selected area of study. The review should describe, summaries, evaluate and clarify this literature. It should give a theoretical base for the research and help you (the author) determine the nature of your research. Works which are irrelevant should be discarded and those which are peripheral should be looked at critically.
“In writing the literature review, the purpose is to convey to the reader what knowledge and ideas have been established on a topic, and what their strengths and weaknesses are. The literature review must be defined by a guiding concept (e.g. your research objective, the problem or issue you are discussing, or your argumentative thesis). It is not just a descriptive list of the material available, or a set of summaries.
Many students are instructed, as part of their research program, to perform a literature review, without always understanding what a literature review is.Most are aware that it is a process of gathering information from other sources and documenting it, but few have any idea of how to evaluate the information, or how to present it.
A literature review discusses published information in a particular subject area, and sometimes information in a particular subject area within a certain time period.
A review may be a self-contained unit — an end in itself — or a preface to and rationale for engaging in primary research. A review is a required part of grant and research proposals and often a chapter in theses and dissertations.
A literature review is a critical and in depth evaluation of previous research. It is a summary and synopsis of a particular area of research, allowing anybody reading the paper to establish why you are pursuing this particular research program. A good literature review expands upon the reasons behind selecting a particular research question.
A literature review is the effective evaluation of selected documents on a research topic. A review may form an essential part of the research process or may constitute a research project in itself.
A literature review surveys books, scholarly articles, and any other sources relevant to a particular issue, area of research, or theory, and by so doing, provides a description, summary, and critical evaluation of these works in relation to the research problem being investigated. Literature reviews are designed to provide an overview of sources you have explored while researching a particular topic and to demonstrate to your readers how your research fits within a larger field of study.
A literature review surveys scholarly articles, books, dissertations, conference proceedings and other resources which are relevant to a particular issue, area of research, or theory and provides context for a dissertation by identifying past research. Research tells a story and the existing literature helps us identify where we are in the story currently. It is up to those writing a dissertation to continue that story with new research and new perspectives but they must first be familiar with the story before they can move forward.
A literature review is:
- An integrated synthesis drawing upon a select list of academic sources (mainly journal articles) with a strong relation to the topic in question. It is a paper that includes a description AND a critical evaluation of past research.
- Focused on a particular question or area of research.
- The literature review is not merely a list of every item and resource with any possible relation to your topic, no matter how tenuous. It focuses on those resources and materials that are directly relevant to the addressing of your topic, and as such, is highly selective.
- The literature review is not a widespread, comprehensive list of all materials pertaining to a particular discipline or field of inquiry. Rather, it’s narrowly focused to concentrate only on truly relevant materials.
- The literature review is not summary of available materials without any critical description or component; or an annotated bibliography.
The differences between an annotated bibliography and a literature review:
- Differences in PURPOSE:
- A literature review makes a case for further investigation and research, highlighting gaps in knowledge and asking questions that need to be answered for the betterment of the discipline; as such, its contents are selected to make the case.
- An annotated bibliography is a list of what’s available in a given field, accompanied by a short description. While it may feature a critical component, the criticism is generally directed at the quality of the work, rather than at its value in answering a particular question or buttressing an argument
- Differences in FORMAT:
- A literature review is a prose document similar to a journal article or essay, not a list of citations and descriptions. It often has subsections that highlight themes within the literature review.
- An annotated bibliography is simply that: a bibliography (a list of works or resources), accompanied by annotations. The annotations are usually short descriptions and a brief critical assessment of each work.
To avoid confusion, it should be clear that the literature review is not a chronological catalog of all of the sources, but an evaluation, integrating the previous research together, and also explaining how it integrates into the proposed research program. All sides of an argument must be clearly explained, to avoid bias, and areas of agreement and disagreement should be highlighted.
It is not a collection of quotes and paraphrasing from other sources. A good literature review should also have some evaluation of the quality and findings of the research.
A good literature review should avoid the temptation of impressing the importance of a particular research program. The fact that a researcher is undertaking the research program speaks for its importance, and an educated reader may well be insulted that they are not allowed to judge the importance for themselves. They want to be re-assured that it is a serious paper, not a pseudo-scientific sales advertisement.
Characteristics of Literature Review
A ‘good’ literature review…..
- ….. has appropriate breadth and depth
- ….. has clarity and conciseness
- ….. is a critical evaluation
- ….. is a synthesis of available research
- ….. uses rigorous and consistent methods
A ‘poor’ literature review is…..
- ….. confined to description
- ….. confusing and longwinded
- ….. constructed in an arbitrary way
- ….. narrow and shallow
- …..an annotated bibliography
Purposes of a Literature Review
Every piece of ongoing research needs to be connected with the work already done, to attain an overall relevance and purpose. The review of literature thus becomes a link between the research proposed and the studies already done. It tells the reader about aspects that have been already established or concluded by other authors, and also gives a chance to the reader to appreciate the evidence that has already been collected by previous research, and thus projects the current research work in the proper perspective.
Review of existing literature related to the research is an important part of any research paper, and essential to put the research work in overall perspective, connect it with earlier research work and build upon the collective intelligence and wisdom already accumulated by earlier researchers. It significantly enhances the value of any research paper.
Literature reviews provide you with a handy guide to a particular topic. If you have limited time to conduct research, literature reviews can give you an overview or act as a stepping stone. For professionals, they are useful reports that keep them up to date with what is current in the field. For scholars, the depth and breadth of the literature review emphasizes the credibility of the writer in his or her field. Literature reviews also provide a solid background for a research paper’s investigation. Comprehensive knowledge of the literature of the field is essential to most research papers.
Doing a careful and thorough literature review is essential when you write about research at any level. It is basic homework that is assumed to have been done vigilantly, and a given fact in all research papers. By providing one, usually offered in your introduction before you reach your thesis statement, you are telling your reader that you have not neglected the basics of research.
It not only surveys what research has been done in the past on your topic, but it also appraises, encapsulates, compares and contrasts, and correlates various scholarly books, research articles, and other relevant sources that are directly related to your current research. Given the fundamental nature of providing one, your research paper will be not considered seriously if it is lacking one at the beginning of your paper.
A literature review helps you create a sense of rapport with your audience or readers so they can trust that you have done your homework. As a result, they can give you credit for your due diligence: you have done your fact-finding and fact-checking mission, one of the initial steps of any research writing.
As a student, you may not be an expert in a given field; however, by listing a thorough review in your research paper, you are telling the audience, in essence, that you know what you are talking about. As a result, the more books, articles, and other sources you can list in the literature review, the more trustworthy your scholarship and expertise will be. Depending on the nature of your research paper, each entry can be long or short. For example, if you are writing a doctoral dissertation or master’s thesis, the entries can be longer than the ones in a term paper. The key is to stick to the gist of the sources as you synthesize the source in the review: its thesis, research methods, findings, issues, and further discussions mentioned in the source.
It Helps You Avoid Incidental Plagiarism. Imagine this scenario. You have written a research paper, an original paper in your area of specialization, without a literature review. When you are about to publish the paper, you soon learn that someone has already published a paper on a topic very similar to yours. Of course, you have not plagiarized anything from that publication; however, if and when you publish your work, people will be suspicious of your authenticity. They will ask further about the significance of repeating similar research. In short, you could have utilized the time, money, and other resources you have wasted on your research on something else. Had you prepared a literature review at the onset of your research, you could have easily avoided such mishap. During the compilation of your review, you could have noticed how someone else has done similar research on your topic. By knowing this fact, you can tailor or tweak your own research in such a way that it is not a mere rehashing of someone else’s original or old idea.
It sharpens your research focus. As you assemble outside sources, you will condense, evaluate, synthesize, and paraphrase the gist of outside sources in your own words. Through this process of winnowing, you will be able to place the relevance of your research in the larger context of what others researchers have already done on your topic in the past .
The literature review will help you compare and contrast what you are doing in the historical context of the research as well as how your research is different or original from what others have done, helping you rationalize why you need to do this particular research ,
Perhaps you are using a new or different research method which has not been available before, allowing you to collect the data more accurately or conduct an experiment that is more precise and exact thanks to many innovations of modern technology. Thus, it is essential in helping you shape and guide your research in the direction you may not have thought of by offering insights and different perspectives on the research topic.
Structure of a Literature Review
Generally, a literature review consists of the aim, body, conclusion and references. In some scenarios, a literature review may be integrated into a research proposal. If this is the case, the sections of hypotheses and methods will be included. The sections of aim, hypothesis, and method should be approximately 10% of the length of the literature review.
Aim: The objective of the study; a short explanation of the study being undertaken
Body: Provide a critical review of the context of the research or project topic; an evaluation and analysis on existing knowledge; the outline of theoretical framework; any areas of controversy; limitations of literatures; reasons and purpose of the study being undertaken
Hypothesis: Assumptions or theories that are going to be tested (This section is for the case when a literature review is integrated into a research proposal)
Method: Approaches for data collection and analysis (This section is for the case when a literature review is integrated into a research proposal)
Conclusion: A short paragraph to conclude some key points and arguments
The structure of a literature review should include the following:
- An overview of the subject, issue, or theory under consideration, along with the objectives of the literature review,
- Division of works under review into themes or categories [e.g. works that support a particular position, those against, and those offering alternative approaches entirely],
- An explanation of how each work is similar to and how it varies from the others,
- Conclusions as to which pieces are best considered in their argument, are most convincing of their opinions, and make the greatest contribution to the understanding and development of their area of research.
Fields of Knowledge for Literature Review
It is important to think of knowledge in a given field as consisting of three layers.
- First, there are the primary studies that researchers conduct and publish.
- Second, are the reviews of those studies that summarize and offer new interpretations built from and often extending beyond the primary studies.
- Third, there are the perceptions, conclusions, opinion, and interpretations that are shared informally that become part of the lore of field.
In composing a literature review, it is important to note that it is often this third layer of knowledge that is cited as “true” even though it often has only a loose relationship to the primary studies and secondary literature reviews. Given this, while literature reviews are designed to provide an overview and synthesis of pertinent sources you have explored, there are a number of approaches you could adopt depending upon the type of analysis underpinning your study.
The evaluation of each Literature Review should consider:
Methodology – were the techniques used to identify, gather, and analyze the data appropriate to addressing the research problem? Was the sample size appropriate? Were the results effectively interpreted and reported?
Objectivity – is the author’s perspective even-handed or prejudicial? Is contrary data considered or is certain pertinent information ignored to prove the author’s point?
Persuasiveness – which of the author’s theses are most convincing or least convincing?
Provenance — what are the author’s credentials? Are the author’s arguments supported by evidence [e.g. primary historical material, case studies, narratives, statistics, recent scientific findings]?
Value — are the author’s arguments and conclusions convincing? Does the work ultimately contribute in any significant way to an understanding of the subject?
Development of the Literature Review
Development of the Literature Review can be done in four Stages
1. Problem formulation — which topic or field is being examined and what are its component issues?
2. Literature search — finding materials relevant to the subject being explored.
3. Data evaluation – determining which literature makes a significant contribution to the understanding of the topic.
4. Analysis and interpretation – discussing the findings and conclusions of pertinent literature.
Consider the following issues before writing the literature review:
Use the exercise of reviewing the literature to examine how authors in your discipline or area of interest have composed their literature review sections. Read them to get a sense of the types of themes you might want to look for in your own research or to identify ways to organize your final review. The bibliography or reference section of sources you’ve already read are also excellent entry points into your own research.
Narrow the Topic
The narrower your topic, the easier it will be to limit the number of sources you need to read in order to obtain a good survey of relevant resources. Your professor will probably not expect you to read everything that’s available about the topic, but you’ll make your job easier if you first limit scope of the research problem. A good strategy is to begin by searching the HOMER catalog for books about the topic and review the table of contents for chapters that focuses on specific issues. You can also review the indexes of books to find references to specific issues that can serve as the focus of your research.
Consider Whether Your Sources are Current
Some disciplines require that you use information that is as current as possible. This is particularly true in disciplines in medicine and the sciences where research conducted becomes obsolete very quickly as new discoveries are made. However, when writing a review in the social sciences, a survey of the history of the literature may be required. In other words, a complete understanding the research problem requires you to deliberately examine how knowledge and perspectives have changed over time. Sort through other current bibliographies or literature reviews in the field to get a sense of what your discipline expects. You can also use this method to explore what is considered by scholars to be a “hot topic” and what is not.
Ways to Organize Literature Review
Chronology of Events- If your review follows the chronological method, you could write about the materials according to when they were published. This approach should only be followed if a clear path of research building on previous research can be identified and that these trends follow a clear chronological order of development.
Order your sources by publication chronology, then, only if the order demonstrates a more important trend
Thematic [“conceptual categories”]
Thematic reviews of literature are organized around a topic or issue, rather than the progression of time. However, progression of time may still be an important factor in a thematic review
A methodological approach focuses on the methods utilized by the researcher. A methodological scope will influence either the types of documents in the review or the way in which these documents are discussed.
Other Sections of Your Literature Review
Once you’ve decided on the organizational method for your literature review, the sections you need to include in the paper should be easy to figure out because they arise from your organizational strategy. In other words, a chronological review would have subsections for each vital time period; a thematic review would have subtopics based upon factors that relate to the theme or issue. However, sometimes you may need to add additional sections that are necessary for your study, but do not fit in the organizational strategy of the body. What other sections you include in the body is up to you but include only what is necessary for the reader to locate your study within the larger scholarship framework.
Here are examples of sections you may need to include depending on the type of review you write:
- Current Situation: information necessary to understand the topic or focus of the literature review.
- History: the chronological progression of the field, the literature, or an idea that is necessary to understand the literature review, if the body of the literature review is not already a chronology.
- Questions for Further Research: What questions about the field has the review sparked? How will you further your research as a result of the review?
- Selection Methods: the criteria you used to select (and perhaps exclude) sources in your literature review. For instance, you might explain that your review includes only peer-reviewed articles and journals.
- Standards: the way in which you present your information.
An annotated bibliography on Writing Skills containing book reviews, articles and other sites can be found at:
Types of Literature Reviews
Few important types of Literature Review are
Types of Literature Reviews
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Few things rest in isolation from historical precedent. Historical literature reviews focus on examining research throughout a period of time, often starting with the first time an issue, concept, theory, phenomena emerged in the literature, then tracing its evolution within the scholarship of a discipline. The purpose is to place research in a historical context to show familiarity with state-of-the-art developments and to identify the likely directions for future research.
The purpose of this form is to examine the corpus of theory that has accumulated in regard to an issue, concept, theory, phenomena. The theoretical literature review helps to establish what theories already exist, the relationships between them, to what degree the existing theories have been investigated, and to develop new hypotheses to be tested. Often this form is used to help establish a lack of appropriate theories or reveal that current theories are inadequate for explaining new or emerging research problems. The unit of analysis can focus on a theoretical concept or a whole theory or framework.
This form examines literature selectively in order to support or refute an argument, deeply imbedded assumption, or philosophical problem already established in the literature. The purpose is to develop a body of literature that establishes a contrarian viewpoint. Given the value-laden nature of some social science research [e.g., educational reform; immigration control], argumentative approaches to analyzing the literature can be a legitimate and important form of discourse. However, note that they can also introduce problems of bias when they are used to make summary claims of the sort found in systematic reviews [see below].
Considered a form of research that reviews, critiques, and synthesizes representative literature on a topic in an integrated way such that new frameworks and perspectives on the topic are generated. The body of literature includes all studies that address related or identical hypotheses or research problems. A well-done integrative review meets the same standards as primary research in regard to clarity, rigor, and replication. This is the most common form of review in the social sciences.
A review does not always focus on what someone said [findings], but how they came about saying what they say [method of analysis]. Reviewing methods of analysis provides a framework of understanding at different levels [i.e. those of theory, substantive fields, research approaches, and data collection and analysis techniques], how researchers draw upon a wide variety of knowledge ranging from the conceptual level to practical documents for use in fieldwork in the areas of ontological and epistemological consideration, quantitative and qualitative integration, sampling, interviewing, data collection, and data analysis.
This form consists of an overview of existing evidence pertinent to a clearly formulated research question, which uses pre-specified and standardized methods to identify and critically appraise relevant research, and to collect, report, and analyze data from the studies that are included in the review. The goal is to deliberately document, critically evaluate, and summarize scientifically all of the research about a clearly defined research problem. Typically it focuses on a very specific empirical question, often posed in a cause-and-effect form.
Writing Literature Review
Tips on Writing (Hart 1998)
- Consistent Grammar- Use sentences and paragraphs with appropriate use of commas, colours and semi-colours. Incorrect use of punctuation can affect the meaning.
- Paragraphs- Group sentences that express and develop one aspect of your topic. Use a new paragraph for another aspect or another topic.
- Sentences-Express one idea in a sentence. Ensure that all your sentences have a subject, verb and object.
- Transition Words- Use words that link paragraphs and which show contrast and development to your argument e.g. ‘hence’, ‘therefore’, ‘but’, ‘thus’, ‘as a result’, ‘in contrast’.
- Insufficient information
- Irrelevant material
- Limited range
- Omission of contrasting view
- Omission of recent work
- Vagueness due to too much or inappropriate generalisations
Once you’ve settled on how to organize your literature review, you’re ready to write each section. When writing your review, keep in mind these issues.
Find a Focus
A literature review, like a term paper, is usually organized around ideas, not the sources themselves as an annotated bibliography would be organized. This means that you will not just simply list your sources and go into detail about each one of them, one at a time. No. As you read widely but selectively in your topic area, consider instead what themes or issues connect your sources together
Consider readers expectations
A literature review may not have a traditional thesis statement (one that makes an argument), but you do need to tell readers what to expect. Try writing a simple statement that lets the reader know what is your main organizing principle
Select only the most important points in each source to highlight in the review. The type of information you choose to mention should relate directly to the research problem, whether it is thematic, methodological, or chronological. Related items that provide additional information but that are not key to understanding the research problem can be included in a list of further readings.
A literature review section is, in this sense, just like any other academic research paper. Your interpretation of the available sources must be backed up with evidence [citations] that demonstrates that what you are saying is valid.
Keep Your Own Voice
While the literature review presents others’ ideas, your voice [the writer's] should remain front and center. Weave references to other sources into what you are writing but maintain your own voice by starting and ending the paragraph with your own ideas and wording.
Use Quotes Sparingly
Some short quotes are okay if you want to emphasize a point, or if what an author stated cannot be easily paraphrased. Sometimes you may need to quote certain terminology that was coined by the author, not common knowledge, or taken directly from the study. Do not use extensive quotes as a substitute for your own summary and interpretation of the literature.
Use Caution When Paraphrasing
When paraphrasing a source that is not your own, be sure to represent the author’s information or opinions accurately and in your own words. Even when paraphrasing an author’s work, you still must provide a citation to that work.
Summarize and Synthesize
Remember to summarize and synthesize your sources within each thematic paragraph as well as throughout the review. Recapitulate important features of a research study, but then synthesize it by rephrasing the study’s significance and relating it to your own work.
General Suggestions for writing Literature Review
Writing the introduction
In the introduction, you should:
- Define or identify the general topic, issue, or area of concern, thus providing an appropriate context for reviewing the literature.
- Establish the writer’s reason (point of view) for reviewing the literature; explain the criteria to be used in analyzing and comparing literature and the organization of the review (sequence); and, when necessary, state why certain literature is or is not included (scope).
- Point out overall trends in what has been published about the topic; or conflicts in theory, methodology, evidence, and conclusions; or gaps in research and scholarship; or a single problem or new perspective of immediate interest.
Writing the body
In the body, you should:
- Group research studies and other types of literature (reviews, theoretical articles, case studies, etc.) according to common denominators such as qualitative versus quantitative approaches, conclusions of authors, specific purpose or objective, chronology, etc.
- Provide the reader with strong “umbrella” sentences at beginnings of paragraphs, “signposts” throughout, and brief “so what” summary sentences at intermediate points in the review to aid in understanding comparisons and analyses.
- Summarize individual studies or articles with as much or as little detail as each merits according to its comparative importance in the literature, remembering that space (length) denotes significance.
Writing the conclusion
In the conclusion, you should:
- Conclude by providing some insight into the relationship between the central topic of the literature review and a larger area of study such as a discipline, a scientific endeavor, or a profession.
- Evaluate the current “state of the art” for the body of knowledge reviewed, pointing out major methodological flaws or gaps in research, inconsistencies in theory and findings, and areas or issues pertinent to future study.
- Summarize major contributions of significant studies and articles to the body of knowledge under review, maintaining the focus established in the introduction.
These are the most common mistakes made in reviewing social science research literature.
- Does not describe the search procedures that were used in identifying the literature to review;
- Only includes research that validates assumptions and does not consider contrary findings and alternative interpretations found in the literature.
- Relies exclusively on secondary analytical sources rather than including relevant primary research studies or data;
- Reports isolated statistical results rather than synthesizing them in chi-squared or meta-analytic methods; and,
- Sources in your literature review do not clearly relate to the research problem;
- Uncritically accepts another researcher’s findings and interpretations as valid, rather than examining critically all aspects of the research design and analysis;
- You do not take sufficient time to define and identify the most relevant sources to use in the literature review related to the research problem;
Tips for Conducting a Literature Review
- As a general rule, certainly for a longer review, each paragraph should address one point, and present and evaluate all of the evidence, from all of the differing points of view.
- Evaluating the credibility of sources is one of the most difficult aspects, especially with the ease of finding information on the internet.
- The only real way to evaluate is through experience, but there are a few tricks for evaluating information quickly, yet accurately.
- There is such a thing as ‘too much information,’ and Google does not distinguish or judge the quality of results, only how search engine friendly a paper is. This is why it is still good practice to begin research in an academic library. Any journals found there can be regarded as safe and credible
- It is very difficult to judge the credibility of an online paper. The main thing is to structure the internet research as if it were on paper. Bookmark papers, which may be relevant, in one folder and make another subfolder for a ‘shortlist.’
- The easiest way is to scan the work, using the abstract and introduction as guides. This helps to eliminate the non-relevant work and also some of the lower quality research. If it sets off alarm bells, there may be something wrong, and the paper is probably of a low quality.
- Be very careful not to fall into the trap of rejecting research just because it conflicts with your hypothesis. Failure to do this will completely invalidate the literature review and potentially undermine the research project. Any research that may be relevant should be moved to the shortlist folder.
- Critically evaluate the paper and decide if the research is sufficient quality. Think about it this way: The temptation is to try to include as many sources as possible, because it is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that a long bibliography equates to a good paper. A smaller number of quality sources is far preferable than a long list of irrelevance.
- Check into the credentials of any source upon which you rely heavily for the literature review. The reputation of the University or organization is a factor, as is the experience of the researcher. If their name keeps cropping up, and they have written many papers, the source is usually OK.
- Look for agreements. Good research should have been replicated by other independent researchers, with similar results, showing that the information is usually fairly safe to use.
- Conducting a good literature review is a matter of experience, and even the best scientists have fallen into the trap of using poor evidence. This is not a problem, and is part of the scientific process; if a research program is well constructed, it will not affect the results.
How to design a good Literature Review Assessment?
- Decide the length of a literature review .
- Ensure clear assessment criteria and marking scheme, including grammar, spellings and other issues are provided to the students
- Ensure students understand the meaning of plagiarism and how to reference a piece of
- Ensure the students know the primary objective of literature review
- Ensure the students understand that a literature review is not simply a summary
- Literature reviews require practice; it is recommended that teachers provide the opportunities. Students may begin with small literature reviews on a narrower topic and build from it. Providing examples will be helpful.
- Teachers have to decide if they would assess the quality of the resources/literatures chosen by students for the literature review
Steps in reviewing the literature
Reviewing the literature is an important part of the research process. Systematic steps to follow when evaluating the literature include critiquing the following: title, abstract, problem, purpose, theoretical or conceptual framework or model, implications for nursing, review of literature, hypotheses or research questions, variables, instruments, subjects, ethical concerns, research designs, results, conclusions, recommendations, and future studies.
Writing a literature review is often the most daunting part of writing an article, book, thesis, or dissertation. “The literature” seems (and often is) massive. Here is an efficient and effective way of writing a literature review.
1. Choose a topic. Define your research question.
Your literature review should be guided by a central research question. Remember, it is not a collection of loosely related studies in a field but instead represents background and research developments related to a specific research question, interpreted and analyzed by you in a synthesized way.
- Begin writing down terms that are related to your question. These will be useful for searches later.
- If you have the opportunity, discuss your topic with your professor.
- Make sure your research question is not too broad or too narrow. Is it manageable?
2. Decide on the scope of your review.
How many studies do you need to look at? How comprehensive should it be? How many years should it cover?
Tip: This may depend on your assignment. How many sources does the assignment require?
3. Select the databases you will use to conduct your searches.
Make a list of the databases you will search. Remember to include comprehensive databases Where to find databases:
Databases categorized by discipline
Librarians create research guides for all of the disciplines on campus! Take advantage of their expertise and see what discipline-specific search strategies they recommend!
4. Conduct your searches and find the literature. Keep track of your searches!
- Ask your professor or a scholar in the field if you are missing any key works in the field.
- Review the abstracts of research studies carefully. This will save you time.
- Use the bibliographies and references of research studies you find to locate others.
- Write down the searches you conduct in each database so that you may duplicate them if you need to later .
5. Review the literature.
Some questions to help you analyze the research:
- What was the research question of the study you are reviewing? What were the authors trying to discover?
- Was the research funded by a source that could influence the findings?
- What were the research methodologies? Analyze its literature review, the samples and variables used, the results, and the conclusions. Does the research seem to be complete? Could it have been conducted more soundly? What further questions does it raise?
- If there are conflicting studies, why do you think that is?
- How are the authors viewed in the field? Has this study been cited?; if so, how has it been analyzed?
- Again, review the abstracts carefully.
- Keep careful notes so that you may track your thought processes during the research process.
It is not necessary that a research paper only reviews that work which has led to established norms and principles. The literature that deserves to be included in the review may include opposing conclusions, parallel thinking or even work that was done primarily for other purposes, but which throws light or provide useful insights to the current research area.
Key outcomes of Conducting a Literature Review
While there might be many reasons for conducting a literature review, following are four key outcomes of doing the review.
- Assessment of the current state of research on a topic. This is probably the most obvious value of the literature review. Once a researcher has determined an area to work with for a research project, a search of relevant information sources will help determine what is already known about the topic and how extensively the topic has already been researched.
- Identification of the experts on a particular topic. One of the additional benefits derived from doing the literature review is that it will quickly reveal which researchers have written the most on a particular topic and are, therefore, probably the experts on the topic. Someone who has written twenty articles on a topic or on related topics is more than likely more knowledgeable than someone who has written a single article. This same writer will likely turn up as a reference in most of the other articles written on the same topic. From the number of articles written by the author and the number of times the writer has been cited by other authors, a researcher will be able to assume that the particular author is an expert in the area and, thus, a key resource for consultation in the current research to be undertaken.
- Identification of key questions about a topic that need further research. In many cases a researcher may discover new angles that need further exploration by reviewing what has already been written on a topic. For example, research may suggest that listening to music while studying might lead to better retention of ideas, but the research might not have assessed whether a particular style of music is more beneficial than another. A researcher who is interested in pursuing this topic would then do well to follow up existing studies with a new study, based on previous research, that tries to identify which styles of music are most beneficial to retention.
- Determination of methodologies used in past studies of the same or similar topics. It is often useful to review the types of studies that previous researchers have launched as a means of determining what approaches might be of most benefit in further developing a topic. By the same token, a review of previously conducted studies might lend itself to researchers determining a new angle for approaching research.
Advantages of Literature Reviews
- Literature Reviews assess different cognitive levels and enhance analytical skills through identifying differences in previous work and their work
- Literature Reviews encourage deep learning, and provide an efficient way to assess students on their knowledge and understanding of a particular topic.
- Literature Reviews give a conceptual framework for research or project planning because students can have a clear idea of what has already been done in the field. This helps students build up new research topics on the basis of existing literatures
- Time and cost efficient to look for resources (e.g. through the online database)
- With proper supervision and practices, some graduate attributes such as project management and life-long learning can be learnt and assessed.
Disadvantages of Literature Reviews
- It is time consuming for the teachers to correct and provide feedback.
- Literature reviews require good supervision from teachers particularly for students who are inexperienced in this type of assessment.
- Sometimes, students may not have access to certain information. They may spend unnecessary time and resources on searching for the reviews.
Upon completion of the literature review, a researcher should have a solid foundation of knowledge in the area and a good feel for the direction any new research should take. Should any additional questions arise during the course of the research, the researcher will know which experts to consult in order to quickly clear up those questions