literature review thesis

literature review thesis

The Impact of Literature Reviews on Thesis Writing

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1. Introduction

The impact of literature reviews on the successful inquiry lies with the process of how knowledge is associated and construed. It is designed to identify related work in the subject area and to evaluate the quality of that work. This may take the form of a comprehensive literature review as is common in articles and reviews, and may also involve a more detailed review of several works. The review focuses on the theory that is already on the topic and this leads to an informed hypothesis. High quality scholarly informed work is more likely to result in more defined theory and more careful consideration of the related theories. This can be contrasted with lower quality work which may result in a trivial or poorly defined theory. Informed theory will be more robust and lead to a higher quality design of solution. This essentially means by doing informed theory from coming to conclusions based upon trial and error, we can achieve a higher quality solution and Richard (2006) claims that this is a process of science that is the hallmark of human being.

2. Importance of Literature Reviews

A literature review is a comprehensive up-to-date discussion of published work around a particular topic. It is an integral part of preparation for a research project, for several reasons. A literature review should not be an end in itself but should be used as a means to an end. This is a very important point in the preparatory phase where it has a tendency to be forgotten. The end point is to mobilize support for your research and to present it in a convincing manner so that it fits all the necessary criteria. The reader should be able to form a new insight into the research from what is written and should be able to directly apply this knowledge to use. A literature review is a critical analysis of the existing work around your topic. It should identify what is known and unknown in your topic area and it should convey some excitement and enthusiasm for your topic. The final and most critical point of a literature review is to help the reader understand your research. With the knowledge of what is known and unknown, your reader should be able to form a clear hypothesis based on research that has already been done. So, the research you would like to conduct should be a natural step from what has already been done.

The role of literature review in thesis writing is often underestimated. This is a crucial section of a thesis as it provides the framework of the whole study. In the literature review, you should be able to establish the need and relevance of your research.

3. Strategies for Conducting a Literature Review

The preceding section has argued that the literature review can be a significant component of thesis writing. Two comprehensive literature reviews in this area suggest important strategies for undertaking an exhaustive review of the literature. Kember and Gow (1990) identified five generic strategies used by good researchers. These strategies were: (1) searching for the understanding of an issue, (2) playing detective, (3) sorting, sifting and weighing, (4) being comprehensive, and (5) being methodical and careful. While these strategies are not specific to the literature review, they do offer insight into the types of thinking and actions required to produce a comprehensive analysis of an issue. In a more recent review, Boote and Beile (2005) sought to identify strategies for scoping the literature for a PhD. Their research uncovered a three-stage process used to reduce information overload and increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the search. This model involves the identification of key words or concepts, finding the right sources and using an organising strategy to sift through the mountains of information. During stage one, the researcher will usually begin with brainstorming and mind maps to identify what is already known about the topic. This might also involve sifting through any lecture or tutorial notes relevant to the topic. Step two requires the researcher to identify the right sources which provide access to the desired literature. This will likely involve using electronic databases, online libraries and journal catalogues. Step three necessitates a time saving strategy to filter large quantities of literature. An example given to this was a Saudi Postgraduate student using a book on how to write a PhD to ascertain the most important chapters to split an overwhelming amount of literature.

4. Evaluating and Analyzing Literature Sources

It is essential to evaluate the credibility of the information you are using. The following checklist will assist you in evaluating the sources you are using. It is important to determine if the material is right for your field of study. If you are not sure, ask a librarian or consult your lecturer or supervisor. Gibaldi suggests using the BEAM model to evaluate the usefulness of a source. You should determine if a source is using the best available evidence, whether it provides useful background information, whether the source has authority in the field, and if the source is directly applicable to your research in that it provides material for your thesis. Using this model will assist in determining the relevance of a source to your thesis. High quality research always involves critical analysis of information and this should be your goal. Think about whether the claims made by the source are in depth, and if the author provides analysis of other research. It is good to compare sources on the same topic and determine which arguments and sources are the most persuasive. High quality research will always stand up to critique so analyse and critique information as you are reading. Asking questions about the strengths and weaknesses of a piece of information will assist this process. With respect to literature reviews it is best to select information that is most useful and representative of the topic, selecting sources which present differing arguments will allow you to evaluate the relative strength of differing arguments.

5. Conclusion and Recommendations

From the onset of initial preparation, a research scholar should be aware of the impact that a literature review will have on his/her research. With the expectation that it will provide the foundations for the understanding of others in the field and highlight the importance of the researcher’s work. The review should be something that can be independently studied, and a report obtained on findings. It should be used to identify any theories or concepts that are open to dispute and prompt the research to question their own work and to develop an argument in support of it.

Adapting and paraphrasing key ideas from the review is another method to generate thoughts and synthesize new information. However, an author should be careful to credit the original source, to avoid plagiarism and to uphold academic integrity. By setting goals and deadlines for the review, the research may progress more efficiently and be less likely to fall behind schedule. Opportunities to discuss the review or research with others in the field should also be sought, to obtain different perspectives and further improve the quality of the literature review. Above all, it requires patience and perseverance, so the researcher must be persistent and maintain that the finished product will be of high quality and something to be proud of.

The literature review exercise for a research scholar is a painstaking task, involving much creative thinking, testing of concepts, and time management. Not only do we have to consider what to include in the review, but also which papers are pertinent to the research, and in what order to place them. As Hart (1998) states, “reading and thinking are key ingredients in the development of a review and are time consuming.”

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