parts of a literature review

parts of a literature review

The Importance of Literature Reviews in Research

1. Introduction

Literature review is a crucial exercise that underpins the whole research process. It not only includes the review, but also assessing and surmising salient information from the reviewed substances. It can be either a basic review of the reviewed material providing a complete summary and synthesis, structures and insight to a particular topic or a fully written paper is the end result of the literature review that the complete report focuses above. A critical method is vitally important for a completed written document to enable to show that giving understanding between what the previous research carried out and what the current research will add to the topic (Hart, 1998). It is crucial for the researcher to have a complete understanding of the previous researches undertaken, and the area that has been left unexplored to commence the research, as to prevent duplication of work to save both time and valuable resources. A critical method will also enable the research to identify the strengths and weaknesses in the previous research, and thus give a more defined area of how the current research needs to further progress the research topic. According to Perk (2005), it’s also important to give the reader a clear idea of the new research and methodological approach being undertaken compared to the previous research. To do this, it’s best to identify major debates or discrepancies between the existing research and the new research being carried out.

2. Purpose of a Literature Review

It is an important feature of a literature review that it is not a mere descriptive list of summaries or findings followed by a critical discussion. In the social science research field, the literature review attempts to understand and critique the overall state of the art in a particular field to then provide a cogent argument for new research that advances the field in question. As argued by Tranfield et al, a good research project, one that provides a new and significant contribution to the body of knowledge, has to challenge the way we think “about elements of our lives, the organizations or the societies in which we function.” This explicitly or implicitly involves identifying limitations or shortcomings of the current state of affairs and then arguing the case for change. The change being argued will most likely be based on a problem-solving argument in that the researcher has identified a problem in current practice or understanding, has found a particular cause for the problem, and can then provide a solution to this problem by addressing the cause. This problem-solving perspective forms the central argument for the new research and can act as a thread that the reviewer pulls through the entire tapestry of the literature review. A thread that has to be carefully laid out for the sake of the reader but is often difficult to define and locate without first exploring the current state of affairs in the field to be researched. This is why the new research is situated in what is usually called the “argument” or the “problem” in the literature review.

In short, a literature review shows readers where the reviewer is entering the academic conversation on a particular issue or question. Its goal is to situate research in a historical context, to demonstrate familiarity with state-of-the-art developments, and to identify the likely directions for future research. As Ward and Fletcher put it in their book on conducting literature reviews, “The research report is our communication with the rest of the world about what we have done, why we have done it the way we have, and what we think about it.”

3. Methods for Conducting a Literature Review

A literature review is an account of what has been published on a topic by accredited scholars and researchers. In writing the literature review, your purpose is to convey to your reader what knowledge and ideas have been established on a topic, and what their strengths and weaknesses are. As a piece of writing, the literature review must be defined by a guiding concept and should not be a list of all the. You will need to consult widely in order to develop a clear picture of what is known about your topic. This means you need to understand what research has already been done and published and what theories these studies have produced. Many of you will need to obtain funding or ethical approval for this stage. If you are doing a thesis, you may begin by reading a general reference source such as a textbook on your topic. This will give you a working knowledge of your topic and the theories related to your topic. These theories will provide you with a way of understanding and interpreting the information you will collect. Next you will probably want to identify and locate scholarly journal articles, books and other sources that may help you to answer your question. This means you will need to search using keywords to narrow down your results. The major academic databases such as PsycInfo, Medline, Web of Science, JSTOR and ProQuest are probably the safest bet for finding the articles you need to read. Not all information will be available on the internet, so you may need to actually go to a library or resource center to find articles. Now, this may sound simple but in reality it is a very time consuming and possibly an expensive process. It is also a process that is considered part of your research. You will need to document the specifics of your search strategy so that your reader can evaluate the appropriateness of your study. This is usually done using a method similar to that described in Cronin et al. (2008).

4. Key Components of a Literature Review

3. A contextual review analyses the research throughout a period of time. It often is used in a research area where the researcher is unknown or when it is unclear what a piece of work has really achieved. This can be useful to present the history of a research topic and to see how it has developed or changed over time.

2. A conceptual review analyses the various concepts, ideas or theories in a particular area. By making comparisons between different pieces of literature and noting the gaps and differences, this is an ideal way to develop a conceptual framework.

1. A theoretical framework is asked to be developed in your research area. This should be informed by genuine problems/questions in your area of research. You should aim to use the work of others to prove or disprove your theories. It is not solely a descriptive list of the material available or a set of summaries.

The literature review has generally focused on 3 key components:

5. Conclusion

There can be various means to an end when doing a literature review. It is a seamless thread through all types of research, being the backbone of all research because it provides a tangible background to a sometimes intangible research question. What we mean by this is the background information to a question won’t always be adequate to form a specific, well-defined question. Static variables often have a catalyst that is a single event, after which the variable in question never changes. The difference is hard to determine without prior knowledge, and the same can be said for a true hypothesis. Sometimes one tries to prove or disprove something without a well-defined idea of what it is. And this brings us back to the thread, the review of the literature on the variable or hypothesis in question will help people form concrete questions and definitions in order to pin down what it is they are trying to assess.

Researchers are constantly trying to find new ways to integrate various aspects of information. In their respective fields, knowledge builds upon knowledge – this is an obvious fact. How researchers assimilate prior knowledge depends on their research question. They may wish to identify all that is known in a certain area, and therefore “review the literature,” often an initial step in the research process. This can be a descriptive catalog of the work in the field and often is in the form of a term paper. Conversely, they may want to test an existing theory or generalize a trend by formulating a hypothesis. Testing a theory demands a comprehensive review of the literature to determine whether further testing is warranted. The best way to determine whether a trend can be generalized is to conduct a correlational study, and then the literature review can assist in determining whether the variables in question have been examined in such a way. In any event, it is a known fact that a well-done literature review can be the crucial difference between a pass and a fail, or give students the greater distinction that eludes so many students. This being so, it is time well spent.

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