how to write literature review

how to write literature review

How to Write a Literature Review

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1. Introduction

Step two: identification of themes. This step is really about organizing and sifting. That and using a different spelling of the word. Identified themes may be in the form of an author-centered summarative note, such as “this guy is a Marxist” (someone wrote that once).

Step one: the initial reading. There are usually two stages to the literature review. The first involves a primary source discovery of reading a lot of abstracts to select relevant articles. Then an in-depth read of a set of articles on that first pass. The reviewing is a continuous process. Do it sequentially or it could take on a big messy qualitative look (Hart 1998). This means you must understand the relevant literature well, but you should not waste time with a lot of articles that aren’t truly relevant.

A literature review is a specific type of academic essay that you will be asked to write as an assignment for coursework or, more likely, as a component of a dissertation or thesis work. It is a critical, evaluative account of the existing research on a particular topic. It does not have to repeat every study that has been done, in which case it would be a systematic review, be chronological, or be comprehensive in the coverage of all the relevant research. It is not the place to write an essay on the importance of the title being a good metaphor. It is not like writing a grocery list. It is a brainstorming stage and you may have to change it around a bit to accommodate for the fact that your ideas will evolve as you progress with the review.

2. Understanding the Purpose of a Literature Review

The purpose of a literature review is to: 1. Provide a written account of the current state of research on a selected topic by identifying, evaluating, and synthesizing the relevant literature. 2. Help in formulating a research question or problem with an objective of developing a hypothesis. 3. Identify the research methodology and techniques that have been used to gather evidence on how the questions or problem have been addressed in the current literature. 4. Provide a context for the research in answering the research question and develop the questionnaire, the results of which might fill the gap in the current literature. 5. Have a brief look at the research that has been conducted in the similar area on the topic and give an inference about the findings in answering the question. 6. Summarize the key findings on the research question and explain the momentum to the new area for further research and to answer the question in a more specific way.

3. Conducting a Comprehensive Literature Search

First, it is probably best to assess how much information is available. This can be done by conducting a preliminary search of the databases at hand. To do this, we should use the search options and try to make it as thorough as possible. It is a good idea to also use different keywords. Once you have done this, scan through the titles, and if available, abstracts. This should give an idea of the volume of information available on the topic. With more obscure topics, there may not be a great deal available, whilst more current or popular topics may have an immense volume of information. This should be taken into consideration with the amount of time available and the total volume of information that needs to be researched. With a set amount of time, it may become apparent that some of the more narrow topics will need to be broadened to something with more available information. Often, it is a good idea to select the most recent topic, as more current information is usually more relevant.

Definitely, the literature review has to be a comprehensive search. It aims to find all of the materials that have been produced relevant to the research or topic at hand. We are required to find academic research or other scholarly articles. Sometimes this process is very tough since the researcher could only produce a limited result. This often occurs with “newly born” topics where not so many researchers have ventured into a similar area. It still applies to searching for materials that are extremely old, where although there are many resources, they could be difficult to find. Essentially, the researcher should aim to get the best coverage of the material with the constraints of time and resources available. This process needs to have good planning to make this phase more effective and efficient.

4. Analyzing and Synthesizing the Literature

The last major phase in the writing of a literature review is analysing and synthesising the literature. This is the point where the review effectively becomes an essay in its own right (a literature-based essay). On the one hand, this is satisfying, for on the other hand, it can be discouraging. It is satisfying to have made a case and drawn some conclusions, and it is discouraging to have it challenged. The process of analysing can be done in various ways, but it nearly always involves some form of categorisation: it is unlikely that themes or issues in the literature have emerged in a haphazard manner. Categorisation might take place through an organising framework known in advance of the data, through a matrix which allows data to be sorted in a variety of ways, or through more interpretative or pattern finding exercises, masquerading under the name of ‘thematic analysis’. In the first instance, it is typical to consider the most readily testable hypotheses. These hypotheses might entail an optimistic and pessimistic view of the world concerning the nature and childhood and the possibility of change for the better. They might involve the notion of intuitive theories discussed in developmental psychology. They might involve methodological issues and interactions between researcher and researched, for instance in the construction of questions that social survey researchers ask respondents. Hunches of this sort can be proved surprisingly quickly.

5. Writing an Effective Literature Review

Avoid programs of irrelevant, duplicate, or outdated information. Your literature review should not be a straightforward summary of everything you have read on the topic. Avoid the temptation of providing a long list of all articles and sources that you have consulted about your research area. This would be unproductive and repetitive. Instead, categorize the literature of what is best, most relevant, and useful into four or five subheadings. Each subheading can represent a series of work done by different researchers into the same aspect of your topic. This is especially good to demonstrate that you have examined different sources and that your ideas are well developed. Subheadings are a good way to better organize what you have learned.

First establish the importance of your research. You will do this by demonstrating that your research area is important, essential, interesting, and problematic in some way. Try to be as comprehensive as possible. This means that you should attempt to discuss and define all important, unusual, and/or contradictory trends connected to your topic. For example, evidence of current trends in weight management which are being questioned, an absence of literature in your chosen area which might be possible to exploit and turn into a research career, a massive increase in knowledge and evidence on a topic leading to information overload, etc. By doing this, you will be able to show why your topic/question is important and convince the reader to continue reading your review.

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