what is literature review in research paper

what is literature review in research paper

The Importance of Literature Review in Research Paper

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1. Introduction

A literature review is a vital part of research and it requires students to review what others have written about their topic, and how it is relevant to their work. It is a critical look at the existing research that is significant to the work that students are doing. This review will help to generate ideas and may also provide an explanation for the research question. Literature review covers a wide area of sources however, students should confine themselves to sources that are relevant to the work i.e. science and social science students should focus on phenomena and cause-effect issues. Other students should focus on the way in which the topic has been analysed i.e. comparing historical interpretations, or different theoretical approaches to an issue. It is important to start a literature review by defining the research question; to do this students need to have chosen a research area which is too broad i.e. it is not possible to define the cause of the 2nd world war in a few thousand words. Then review the main discussions that the research question has provoked, and identify key theorists. By focusing on a research question the literature review will help to move the work forward and will not simply be a collection of disjointed summaries of articles and books.

2. Purpose of Literature Review

Avoid reinventing the wheel. Basically, this is to make sure that research does not take the wrong path to something that has already been done. If something is already done, the research can be futile. For example, it wouldn’t make sense for a car company to develop a new electric car battery if there was already one on the market that exceeded expectations. This is by far the most cost-effective way of doing research. Any method that can save time and resources, and lead to better, more effective results is always a good idea.

Compare findings. A literature review can compare findings of one author with another author with the same methodology or approach to his research. This is to see if the findings are similar and if they are, it can still help the cause and prove to be a valid method. If the findings are different, it can steer the research in a different direction or path to determine why the findings were different. This can be very beneficial to a researcher as it can give a logical explanation for something turning out to be more simple or more complex than expected.

Provide a foundation for the research. It provides a path and framework for the research. It shows what has happened in the research area historically to let us know what further needs to be done and what might be the best research approach. For example, if a literature review was carried out on a particular treatment for a disease that was only recently possible to study, the overall direction of the research will be to find out if that particular treatment is still the best one compared to new found methods or exceeding in safety margins.

The purpose of a literature review is to:

3. Methods for Conducting Literature Review

In general, there are several different methods you might choose to conduct a literature review. For instance, you might choose to conduct a review of a field of work which you do not really understand very well, and that means that you would need to speak to people in that field and also read quite a bit. In this situation, a method of gathering the information, which might be quite interesting, would be to use a computerized database for the field of work or a collection of related abstracts and see how far you could go in ‘snowballing’ the information – this is, going backwards and forwards from something you do understand to something you do not, by following the references. In general, with the quite large logistical task of reviewing a body of research which is dispersed across a wide range of sources, and which might be quite large, you would expect to find a literature review more often than not using a rather formal ‘systematic’ or ‘semi-systematic’ approach.

4. Benefits of Literature Review

Relevance and up-to-date information: While doing a review of literature available, it is time-consuming but it will give the researcher a thorough understanding of his topic. Due to development in a number of areas of study, there is often an abundance of recent literature available on a topic. A researcher might miss this to his peril in thinking that more historical references are enough. The availability of recent literature in certain areas provides a means for the research to ensure that the information used is up to date. An example of this could be a topic in the IT field where technology continually advances. In this case, a review of information more than two years old would be irrelevant. A good review of literature will also give the researcher a means of comparing one piece of literature to another. This would further aid the researcher in identifying which pieces of information are beneficial to his research.

Significance of information: Usually a good review of available literature on a research topic can avoid duplication of efforts on the part of research undertaking. This is done by uncovering the hidden/less known information on the topic. It helps in refining the research problem. At the beginning of a research project, it is useful to know what is already known in the area and what previous research has found. A literature review will help the researcher in a) setting the research questions in the context of what is already known and b) avoiding research that has already been undertaken by others. For example, a student writing a research project on the involvement of women in World War Two would benefit from reading an essay on the topic to see what specific aspects of women’s involvement in the war have been written about, and what areas require further research. The student may discover that the essay has already been written for them.

Literature review offers a number of advantages to the researchers including:

5. Conclusion

It is always best stated in your own words and include a variety of sentence structures. A useful way to think of the conclusion is, paradoxically, as a second introduction because it does in fact contain many of the same features. While it does not need to be too long – four well-crafted sentences should be enough – it can make or break an essay.

While a single paragraph is usually all that is required to conclude a standard essay or composition, a long research paper may call for several concluding paragraphs. What is important here is the “wrap-up” of your argument. Think of the conclusion as the bow on a beautifully wrapped gift. Be sure to bring the “gift” back to its original question, discuss the “wrapping” (your methods) and the “gift” itself (the knowledge), and finally, if possible, add some speculation or deduction as to its ultimate implications.

In the conclusion, you should return to the thesis statement and analyze it in the light of the material you have covered in the essay. It is important to draw out the implication of your argument and give the reader a sense of completeness and closure. If the arguments have been presented well and each point considered fully, then this should not be too difficult: simply go back to the introduction and reiterate your argument.

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