literature review introduction

literature review introduction

Importance of Literature Review in Research

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1. Introduction to Literature Review

The literature review begins as an early assignment in a doctoral education, and generally follows either the problem statement or the research questions. While the problem statement identifies a glaring problem that has no solution in practice, the literature review explains that in very clear detail. This is not to say that the research questions are not addressed in the literature review as well. Actually, from a philosophical standpoint, the entire point of the literature review is to find out where your problem or research questions fit into the bigger picture. This fitting-in must be conveyed in a very articulated way. At this level of education in the process, it is expected that there will be no less than 200 sources and many of these will be primary sources in the form of peer-reviewed journal articles. Due to global access of information and the level of competition in North America, it is not out of the ordinary for today’s aspiring scholar to have acquired materials in 5 or 6 languages. This high volume of resources requires that the researcher be organized and keep copious and accurate notes. The notes are the most crucial artifact in the literature review. These must detail the source and the specific fact or evidence found in the source relevant to the researcher’s study. Failure to track the source of the said evidence often leads to plagiarism. The more detailed and nuanced the fact or evidence, the easier it is to write a cohesive literature review. High attention to detail builds credible work. Credible work is the stone that, when taken all the way through a doctoral education with other published studies, will lead to a unique question in the proposed study. This unique question and higher level future questioning takes the student from doctoral candidate to future peer.

2. Purpose and Objectives of Literature Review

A study is always focused on ‘who’, ‘where’, ‘what’, ‘how’, and ‘why’ a research question is framed to cater to all these questions. And the literature review serves as a means to cater to all these by serving various objectives. Literature review is the best way to find new ways of interpreting any problem, means to identify more than one solution to a problem where each solution is linked to how we understand the problem. It gives way to build a foundation for research, which is laid by the past works of others. It also helps to identify methodological issues, which need to be addressed by research. It will enable a researcher to see what has been done before, what problems were identified, and how others have gone about studying the problem. This, when compared with the findings of the present study, will identify the progress we have made in the concerned area and what we have learned, thus identifying the ‘where’. Literature review also establishes a connection between the works of an author and others, which, when considering academic writing, is a very important aspect. And finally, it serves as a means to define a research question and methodology at the end of the review of the literature, which is the base for any research. The aim behind doing a literature review is to provide a better understanding of the topic in question before actually doing the research. Too often, research starts on a topic without adequate background information or understanding by the person conducting the research. This is a crucial mistake. Without doing a review of the literature, the research looks like a loosely formed idea. This renders the time-consuming effort to a futile exercise. This may also lead to repeating mistakes made in the past or simply not learning from others’ mistakes at all. Often, this is simply because a person feels that they already have a good understanding of the topic in question and wants to get on with the ‘real research’.

3. Methodology for Conducting a Literature Review

Step 1: Making up your mind what you want to accomplish. The first key step in conducting a literature review is to be clear about what you are searching for. This can be facilitated by thinking and jotting down a few questions and making a list of alternative terms which might be viable when searching for these questions. The electronic literature search can be very time-consuming. Retrieve the most extensive and precise list of articles on the subject of interest. Print off a copy of the titles of these articles and highlight those that look relevant to the review. Provide a new research student or GP with only the title list and an objective of identifying articles with the same criteria. If he cannot pinpoint the articles, then they are not likely to be found by using MESH terminology and are therefore lost to the literature. This practice will also cement the idea of what articles are being sought after.

There is no easy way in conducting a literature review, but with proper organization and the above-explained knowledge, it makes it a very easy one. The step-wise approach represents advice specific to the use of electronic literature searches and organization of literature review. This came from the Implementing Evidence in Practice module in year 2 BMedSC(Hons).

4. Benefits and Significance of Literature Review

Any research, be it scientific, business, marketing or academic, cannot be successful without a sound literature review. This review of the existing literature helps in substantiating the research questions and the need for the research. It assists in hypothesis development, methodology design and in defining results. It is important to undertake a thorough review of existing literature, in order to determine what is already known, how this knowledge supports the new research and in what way the new research can add to the earlier knowledge. This will lead to more focused research, and will also save time and effort, as the researcher will be acquainted with the knowledge in the area. It will help in understanding different philosophical approaches that have been utilized in similar researches, as compared to one’s own, and how these efforts have been evaluated. The literature is available on different topics, however it is the way in which this research is approached and evaluated in light of the findings from other researches, that makes it different and makes it empirically sound. Therefore it is important to see how different research topics, on similar and different issues have been undertaken and what has been learnt from these efforts. This will help in understanding the research problem more precisely and will produce a clear perception of different dependent and independent variables. Such comprehensive understanding of the research problem will lead to a scientific approach and will enable the maintenance of focus throughout the research. Systematic and clear understanding of research problems leads to logical hypothesis development. Validating the existing research is relevant to the new one, helps in identifying the gap, and hence formulating the problem statement becomes easy. This also helps in identifying different methodological approaches and the kinds of data we need to solve the problems. It provides a base to identify the sampling design, sources of data, its reliability and validity and in what way the data can be analysed. Different researches are rich sources of different research designs and different approaches of data analysis. By understanding these, one can avoid different pitfalls others might have faced, and can learn from others experience. Such understanding will help in defining clear results and identifying different alternative explanations of the results.

5. Conclusion

The nature of the research, its intent, and the trends in academic and scholarly writing and publishing dictate the depth and breadth of literature review. A Ph.D. candidate in the social sciences seeking to understand the concept of poverty and its manifestations may begin with a definition of poverty in the local community. As their understanding increases, they can widen their sphere of inquiry. This movement is from a narrow interest to a broad concept. The literature review enables the student to sample differing interpretations and build a conceptual map of the topic. Reading a breadth of articles, abstracts, and online materials, the student is able to notice the differing methodological approaches and points of view on the topic. This can be an iterative process in that the student may end up refining their topic several times in the process of looking at the literature. The literature review also has an inherent logic. It is often a continuation of something in the news and leads to a prediction of a phenomenon. The same rules apply to writing a proposal, a thesis, a dissertation, or any business research report. The researcher tries to gather background information, develop a map of the area, identify a place of entry, and gather information to fill in the gaps. This last part is where a literature review fits the research process. An important strategy for learning how to compose literature reviews is to understand the genre of the literature review as done in the social sciences, as opposed to forms of annotated bibliographies. The goal of the literature review is to understand the state of the art on a particular topic. A literature review can be a precursor in the introduction of a research paper, or it can be an entire paper in itself, acting as the first stage of large research projects and allowing the supervisor to ascertain that the student is on the correct path. A literature review can be a thesis on its own. Many professors ask students to write literature reviews on a specific subject, which is why it is important to have a clear view on what a literature review is and how to approach this assignment. A literature review can be just a simple summary of the sources, but it usually has an organizational pattern and combines both summary and synthesis. A summary is a recap of the important information of the source, but a synthesis is a reorganization or a reshuffling of that information. It might give a new interpretation of old material or combine new with old interpretations. Or it might trace the intellectual progression/conversation on a topic. And it is this last that may best explain the literature review as an iterative process.

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