how to write a literature review for a research proposal

how to write a literature review for a research proposal

How to Write a Literature Review for a Research Proposal

1. Introduction

The introduction to the literature review/proposal orients the reader to the problem under study. It is here that the reader’s interest should be piqued, so the writer should begin with a broad discussion of the subject and then narrow the focus to the thesis. Sometimes the writer wants to cover a selection of material without being bound to a specific thesis. This type of review is essential to proving to the reader that the writer is well-informed in the subject being discussed. Depending on the scope of the study, the writer may want to evaluate the sources and conclude with a recommendation as to the best sources to use. Step one progresses to step two in the writing of the literature review/proposal. Step two of the literature review/proposal provides a theoretical framework for the reader. Here the author is not just commenting on other sources, rather he/she is interpreting the research and giving his/her unique view on the subject. This may unknowingly occur throughout the literature review/proposal but theoretical framework specifically examines the author’s ideas, without being influenced by others. Theory should be directly related to the thesis and the literature review/proposal must include sufficient, up-to-date information. Though some literature reviews/proposals can be more comprehensive than others, they should be summed up in a paragraph or two.

2. Importance of Literature Review

A literature review may consist of simply a summary of key sources, but in the social sciences, a literature review usually has an organizational pattern and combines both summary and synthesis, often within specific conceptual categories. A summary is a recap of the important information of the source, but a synthesis is a reorganization, or a reshuffling, of that information in a way that informs how you are planning to investigate a research problem. The analytical features of a literature review might: – Give a new interpretation of old material or combine new with old interpretations. – Trace the intellectual progression of the field, including major debates. – Offer insight into how to understand the development of the field. – Identify the important works in the field. You might also have the option of writing a paragraph that evaluates the evidence that has been compiled, its reliability, and the pertinence of the evidence to your research. It is always important to find out what data is right or wrong so it may be useful for the reader to make a good decision. A well-done literature review results in half accomplishment in your research.

3. Steps to Write a Literature Review

Choosing the topic or title is perhaps the most important step in writing a review, for without one there is nothing to write about. If you have been given a definitive ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer on whether to write a review and have chosen to write one, look back over your proposal and identify the main purposes. These will help you to justify the time and effort spent on writing a review. If you are writing a review as part of your research project, the purposes for writing it will be to guide and help the reader build a working knowledge of the topic. Idea generation and collection will be a methodical exploration into all the available literature. Your find all the relevant literature phase, which it is suggested is to be done throughout the life of writing a review. To lay a strong foundation for your research, you will want to be informed by existing knowledge on the topic. The best way of doing this is to read extensively. Hence, learning how to summarise and paraphrase will be an essential element of your reading strategy throughout the review. Finally, writing the review should clarify your understanding on the topic and inform the next phase of your research where you will select the best literature and develop a research project informed by this.

4. Tips for Writing an Effective Literature Review

Person and Cronenwett (1980 cited in: Beck, 2009:26) recommend avoiding the provision of extensive detail when writing a literature review. It should be a synthesis of the relevant literature organized in a way that is logical for your reader. Excessive detail can make the review too long and confusing. The article by Fink in the fifth reference also details a method for creating a literature review in the form of a statistical analysis. This would only be relevant if your research question was associating two quantitative variables. The method suggests testing some form of increase/positive association vs zero/no relationship vs. decrease/negative correlation vs. different results for each variable analyzed (Fink, 2009:81). This is a very complex and may not be necessary for most research questions. Step 7 is the publication of a literature review. This can be in a thesis, dissertation, journal article, or it may form an entire project. Published literature reviews are highly useful for other researchers as they provide a critical analysis of already existing literature in a specific subject matter.

Create a matrix to organize and summarize the information from each piece of literature you have reviewed. It needs to be a structured format that allows you to see the relationships between different pieces of literature. Magnetizing specific articles/themes together may assist in identifying contrasting evidence in the literature. This can be represented in the matrix by using symbols to identify if an association is positive, negative, or inconclusive (Fink, 2009:80). The matrix will be particularly useful if you are dealing with a large volume of literature. This can be a difficult process as literature can be quite complex, which may result in differing interpretations. It is important at all times to acknowledge the source of your information. This can be completed by including a separate reference list.

Tips for writing an effective literature review: You need to have a sufficiently focused research question to conduct a narrative literature review (Machi and McEvoy, 2009:115). If your research question is too broad, you will collect a vast range of information that will be difficult to analyze. If your research question is too narrow, you may not be able to find much literature on the subject. When you review a piece of research, you need to differentiate between the research topic and the research problem (Polit and Beck, 2010:142). The research topic is the broad subject matter being addressed in a study. For example, the research topic may be about the effects of a nursing intervention on people suffering from dementia. The research problem narrows the broad topic to a specific issue that can be addressed during the study and is more relevant to a literature review. Using the above example, the research problem may investigate the different types of interventions, the positive and negative effects, the socio-economic implications, and the opinions of people with dementia and their carers. The increased focus the research problem has allowed for easier identification of literature which is relevant to the problem.

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5. Conclusion

In conclusion, the aim of the literature review, irrespective of the purpose for applying it as one of the key stages of the research cycle, is to demonstrate that the researcher has an in-depth knowledge and understanding of the topic under investigation. This in turn will enable you to put together a research proposal that will enable the key concepts and variables under investigation to be operationalized, which in turn will enable you to conduct a research project that will make a significant contribution to knowledge. The literature review has provided evidence that the questions asked in the proposed research project are not new, but that these have been asked before by other researchers in the field. It has also been demonstrated that there appears to be a knowledge gap in the field and that there has been no research conducted to date that has attempted to answer the questions posed. By investigating the relationships between various concepts and variables, the proposed research project has the potential to make a significant contribution to knowledge and to bring about positive social change.

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